As you know my Xia headed off for her international adventure in Seoul last month. She promised to keep us all up to date on her adventures so she’s sharing her first monthly blog all the way from South Korea. Reading these blogs are such a treat for me and babes, she’s sharing some great tips for anyone who might be thinking of studying abroad or traveling to Asia.
Guest Blog x Xia
It’s hard to believe that almost 2 weeks ago I arrived in Seoul. Ask me a year ago and I would’ve never believed that I would be here right now. For the last four to five years I’ve had this burning desire to study abroad and it’s crazy to see my dream become a reality. You might be wondering, of all the places I could’ve gone to, why study in Korea?
Honestly, it wasn’t exactly my first choice. In my Freshman year of 2020, I had discussed with my counselor that I wanted to study abroad twice – first in Japan and then the following year in Korea. Proceeding into my sophomore year, I went through the whole application process to study in Japan. Sadly, a week before committing to the program, it got canceled due to COVID-19. I’m not gonna lie I was disappointed. Like so many others experienced, COVID had already taken away so many moments during my high school senior year and college freshman year. I had been studying Japanese for about 4 years at the time and had my heart set on studying in Japan. When it came time to select a program again during my junior year, I made the difficult decision to switch to Korea, for fear of the program getting canceled again. I didn’t want to take the risk of applying for Japan again because my degree requires that I study abroad for one semester, and I want to spend my final year back home at LMU. So flash forward to today, I definitely think I made the right decision. I get to explore a new city, learn a new language, and create new memories.
Preparing to Study Abroad in South Korea
- University Application: The first step to complete for studying abroad is the university application, which was pretty simple. Since the study abroad office had my previous application, all they had to do was re-apply it to a different program. Once I submitted both my LMU and Sogang University applications, I then had to wait for my acceptance which I received last December.
- Visa Application: Once I received my acceptance, I could then apply for my Student Visa. You do this at your local Korean Embassy. I had been so worried about this process and was sure it would be super complicated, but in the end it was super easy. If I’m being honest, the most challenging part of this process was probably navigating the Korean Embassy website LOL. As long as you have your passport, university acceptance letter, University Business Registration (provided by the university) and other legal documents, you’re good to go. I took my documents to the Korean Embassy in LA, submitted it and received my visa 2 weeks later.
- Housing: I was shocked that trying to get an apartment was the hardest part of this entire process. I had initially planned to rent an apartment, but the process proved to be too complicated, risky and expensive. In Korea you have to put down a deposit that could range anywhere from $4,000-10,000 USD on top of monthly rent, which was a bit shocking. I tried working with a local real estate agent but the language barrier proved to be too difficult. Our concerns with confirming the validity of the listings from abroad combined with the high deposit and fear of losing that deposit made us reconsider. There were also other unknown details like how to set up utilities as an international student upon my arrival that made renting undesirable. It would take a whole blog to explain all of the intricacies of this, but basically to get around this issue we ultimately made the choice to book my housing with Airbnb. So far this seems to have been the right decision. We liked the fact that Airbnb guaranteed a refund and would help find a new Airbnb if there were any issues with the legitimacy of the listing. We also liked that we could read reviews on the listing which helped me feel more confident with my booking. Checking into my Airbnb was super easy and my Super Host/landlord is super sweet and my place is even more beautiful than the photos. Some of the benefits of my Airbnb are that the place is fully furnished, utilities and Wi-Fi are included, it’s conveniently located near the bus stop which I take to school, and it’s located in a family friendly area. I also like that for my long term stay, my Airbnb payments are broken into 5 installments over the course of my stay.
- COVID Travel Requirements: The actual travel process is really easy as well, but there are several things you must do if you want to be able to travel to Korea, so here are a few things to note. Currently Korea is having all travelers fill out a Q-Code system that includes your passport info, where you’ll be staying, if you’ve had any COVID symptoms, etc. in order to ensure that you are not sick before departure. The good news is that it doesn’t ask for vaccination status or a COVID test, so it is based quite a bit on the honor system. Also if you are a foreigner without a Visa, you must fill out this form on this website called “K-ETA” which I’m not quite sure what it’s for, but if you don’t fill it out they will not let you board your flight or enter Korea, so make sure if you’re planning to visit you get these certificates.
- Airport Transportation: One thing I’m really happy we did was book my airport transportation in advance. We used the website Klook to book a car service from ICN airport to my Airbnb. The car service was amazing and the driver did an amazing job of texting me the day of my travel and was waiting at baggage claim with a sign after I went through customs. It was so comforting to have this scheduled in advance and made the process of traveling with all my belongings so much easier than trying to take a train from the airport.
- Alien Registration Card: One thing to note is that as an international student, you must apply for an Alien Registration Card (ARC) within 90 days of arriving in Korea. Fortunately, my international affairs office at my university helps with this process. I’d imagine this is true for most universities. I haven’t received my card yet but once I do, I’m excited that I’ll be able to travel within Asia as I really want to visit Japan (even if for a weekend) while I’m on this side of the world.
My First Few Weeks in Seoul
With all the nitty gritty stuff out of the way, I can finally share what I’m sure you all want to know – how has my trip actually been? Well I’ll admit it did start off a bit rocky, but I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of things. On the day I left LA I was a whole mess. I was distraught and stressed because I realized I was truly going to be on my own, which is kind of scary when you’ve never lived alone before. It didn’t really help that when I landed I had basically no cell phone signal, which I now know was completely my fault (make sure that your sim card is up to date and unlocked before you leave!). Luckily I have WhatsApp and was able to call my family and stay on the phone with them until I made it to my apartment. When I tell you to get a car service when you land, do it! Trust me you do not want to try to figure out the train situation at the airport, because it is confusing at first.
The first two days were kind of a blur, as I slept mostly and was a little afraid to venture outside. By day three I was ready to conquer the city and my first order of business was buying a transportation card.
It was quite the endeavor for me to purchase a card as I don’t speak any Korean, and the area I’m living in is residential and not touristy, so they don’t really speak English. I ended up buying the wrong card and had to pay cash for the bus for my first day out, but I did end up buying the right kind of card and haven’t had any issues since with it. The first few days were really about acquainting myself with the city. Luckily my friend from LMU is also doing the same program so it has been great to have a friend with me. We did some tourist things like visiting the N Seoul Tower, shopping, eating at the Gwangjang Market, and going to an Anime store. So far the areas I’ve enjoyed the most are Hongdae and Gangnam.
These areas have a vibrant and youthful energy, with there being lots of things to do and lots of food to eat! Also can I just say, by far the best part of Seoul so far is how cheap everything is. For example I have had full on meals with two appetizers and a drink for under $10 USD! At McDonalds I had a chicken sandwich, fries, McFlurry, sprite, and chicken tenders for $11.28 USD. Let me tell you, in the states that would’ve easily been $20-30. Like no one told me how affordable it is to eat here. Plus there are major sales on skincare and makeup here as well and I’ve bought so much already for like half the price of back home. Can’t wait to share more on that!
In regards to school life thus far, I have been enjoying it. Sogang University is beautiful and modern, and definitely feels bigger than LMU. The professors, staff, and students are all so welcoming! After my orientation the other day, some of the students took us to a club and it was the best time ever! I met so many people, and already have a group of friends I’ve been hanging out with everyday. Everyone has been so sweet and I have loved exploring the city with them. They took me to Bukchon Hanok Village, which is a traditional Korean village that has been converted into boutiques and cafes. All the cafes there are stunning and have great pastries and drinks as well! I highly recommend visiting if you ever find yourself in Seoul. In all, the few days have already become unforgettable memories and although I’ve only been here for two weeks thus far, I can already tell this semester is going to be a good one!