Before going to South Korea, I did some preparation and research but regardless there are still things that took me by surprise. Like the fact that it is almost impossible to buy tampons or how quickly you change from wearing short sleeve shirts to winter coats. I have made five tips for students, but also other traveling enthusiasts who are considering going to South Korea.
When reading this article, it is important to remember that the experience I have had will properly differ a lot from the usual exchange, and travel, experience. However, I am certain that I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy every minute of my stay here just as much as I would have under normal circumstances.
Start planning early
My first tip, which especially concerns students. Start planning early and do your research. Make a folder on your computer desktop and start adding everything from timelines to travel reports. Staying on top of the planning and deadlines I really think can make the entire process much more manageable. Especially, when picking your courses which is a really competitive process based on the first-come, first-served principle.
Furthermore, I would encourage everyone to apply for scholarships. I come from a part of Denmark that doesn’t offer that many specific scholarships so I didn’t think that there would be much chance for getting any when applying. However, with much research, planning, and many applications I was actually lucky to end up getting a substantial amount of money. You miss 100% of the shot you don’t take so I would definitely recommend everyone to apply – you never know what might happen.
Bring your yes attitude
To be going on exchange is an adventure and a lot of amazing experience will be coming your way. However, it is all about a progressive and positive attitude. Bring your yes cap and leave the no one at home. Be adventurous and make it the experience you want it to be. Embrace the different teaching styles. Take advantage of the different courses you can do out here. This is an opportunity to get a different perspective on world issues that you would otherwise probably not encounter.
One example is how I was very surprised that when my professors would address the financial crisis, they were not talking about the one most Europeans refers to in 2008 but the Asian one in 1997 which I had never heard about in any of my courses back home.
I would also recommend everyone to take advantage of all the nice cafes for studying to make school a nice part of the day. There is always a nice atmosphere, with soothing music and a common consensus to stay quiet and respectful. You can even leave your stuff while going for a little walk to stretch your legs and I guarantee you that all of your things will still be there when you get back.
Bring clothes for all seasons
The temperatures in Korea vary a lot depending on the seasons, which made packing very difficult. When we arrived in August the temperature was around 35 degrees but since then the temperature has gone down to around 12 degrees and it will become even colder before I am going home.
I, therefore, pack quite a lot of different clothes trying to predict what I would need and want to wear. However, if you are willing to spend the money South Korea is one of the most stylish countries in Asia and most of the items are sold at least one-third of the price in Denmark.
The Korean trends and selection are very close to the Scandinavian style, which makes this a shopping paradise for most exchange students. They have everything from big chains to smaller special local shops with unique handmade pieces. South Korea is also a paradise of beauty products with good quality and low prices. Face and foot masks are now a new weekly essential.
Eat a lot!
I would recommend everyone to take advantage of the fact that going grocery shopping and cooking yourself is almost more expensive than going out to eat. So, make it a nice part of the day to go out and try something new.
Restaurants are everywhere and vary from all corners of the world. A very useful app is MangoPlate which rates restaurants and shows them on a map called Naver Map that is also an app. MangoPlate has really lifted our culinary experiences to new heights because of all the hidden gems it has brought forward.
Some need-to-try Korean food is Korean fried chicken, Korean barbecue, tteokbokki, Korean knife-cut noodles, soy-marinated crab, kimchi dumpling, alive squit, and Bingsu. All these meals always come with kimchi and other delicious sides that vary between seaweed, marinated spinach, small pieces of potatoes, etc.
Almost all Korean meals are a very social and sharing experience where you all sit around the table and eat together. The food arrives on one big plate which you all share and often just straight from that one big plate. I am actually worried that when I get home, I will start taken food from other people’s plates because sharing everything seems so normal now.
Get out in nature
In Seoul, there are thousands of years of history alongside contemporary architecture that really emphasizes the beautiful esthetics of the city. Within the city itself, nature is also very present right at your doorstep with streams, urban walking parks by the roads, and small accessible flower gardens.
Furthermore, museums in the city are free which is a really nice way to spend an afternoon. However, you should also get out of Seoul. It is an amazing city, but South Korea has so much more to offer and all places can be reached within a weekend. I would encourage everyone going to South Korea to prioritize to get out in nature. Within an hour by the subway, you can get to amazing hiking routes in the mountains where you can easily do anything from a day trip to several longer hikes.
You can also easily go to all the lovely parks and if you have half a day to spare, especially in the fall, I would highly recommend taking a trip to Nami Island. You need to take the Subway for around one hour and then a small ferry ride, where you can also opt to zipline to the island. The island is designed with the concept of “Storybook Land, Song Island” in mind and it really does feel like a natural paradise with trees in every color everywhere you look.
Going on exchange has been everything I thought and wanted it to be and so much more. I am so happy and grateful that I got to come here. It really is the best thing I have decided to do since I started my studies at CBS.
Regardless of your purpose for going, I cannot recommend going to South Korea enough. It really is an incredible country with an amazing culture, beautiful city, and the perfect mix between order and chaos. It is organized enough for you to be able to get everything you need and be able to find your way around but still foreign and chaotic enough for it to be a very different experience from what you are used to.