I am a senior in the School of Business as a Marketing major and will be graduating in Spring 2015. I am an intern at the Center for Global Education and a yoga instructor at the RAC. I spent Spring 2014 at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea as a Gilman Scholar. After my semester, I spent 3 weeks traveling through SE Asia visiting friends and seeing the sights.
Instead of writing this post as an opportunity to convince you to study abroad or the benefits, because I assume you already have some interest in the topic or else you wouldn’t be reading this, I would rather advise future and potential students about what to expect and plan for at Yonsei. (Although some of these tips can be applied for other programs)
There were numerous times my roommate and I had the same conversation. “WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL US WE NEEDED THIS!?” or “HOW COME NO ONE TOLD US WE COULDN’T FIND THESE HERE!?” As we simultaneously frantically searched the internet for blogs or articles about previous American students who were studying abroad at Yonsei that could enlighten us about our numerous questions. Our search was to no avail, not a single blog or source was found.
Things I wish someone told me I needed to take
- Bed sheets, pillowcase and duvet: Do you really want to use bed items that numerous other people have used? The pillow they give you might be a sac of plastic noodles so you should take a pillow too. I purchased a pillow from Namdaemun Market for 8000 won (~$8) and a blanket for 40000 won (~$40) and my parents had to ship me sheets and a pillow case.
- Deodorant, Razors, Tampons: Very few options for all of these! Pack enough to last you for your entire stay
- Makeup: There is no Sephora or Ulta. If you like BareMinerals or any of those brands, they hard to come by. There are lots of Korean makeup brands but they are not the best quality so stock up on your favorite kind. Also, Koreans (much like most of East/ SE Asia) have this obsession with white skin so most of the cosmetic products contain a bleaching element to whiten skin.
- Comfortable shoes: This is a must! Seoul is a big city and you will be doing lots of walking. The closest metro stop is a 15 min walk. Take shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. I wear a size 8 and at times it was hard to find shoes in my size.
- Chap stick: I am obsessed with chapstick and wish I had stocked up before I left. I found burt’s bees and some other American brands at Olive Young but it’s twice as expensive
- Snacks: Take a jar a peanut butter or anything you may miss just enough for the first month and then you’ll get used to the food in Korea and won’t need your peanut butter. If all else fails there is iHerb.com Once you get your Alien Registration Card (which is mandatory for whatever reason) you can get free shipping for orders over $60. May seem like a lot but if other people get in on the order it won’t be much. My roommate and I bought pancake mix, chocolate chips, and maple syrup along with other snacks.
- A decent size bag: I only took small crossbodies but wish I had a medium size bag to carry snacks and water when I did my sightseeing.
And here are some useful tips
- Try and bargain. It may work. They usually see a foreigner and jack up the price – what else is new.
- Embrace the kimchi. It will come with every meal. Try grilling it at BBQ, taste way better!
- If you see something you like, buy it! Because chances are in a week or two it’ll be gone. Everything in Korea happens fast, trends seem to change overnight. It’s there way of keeping up with the ever-changing fashion scene.
- People won’t say excuse me on the metro. They’ll nudge and elbow – especially the elderly. It’s just understood that everyone is in a hurry.
- Don’t be loud on the metro/bus. Koreans have long commutes and need that time to sleep, be respectful.
- When crossing the street, run! Especially when the little green man starts blinking fast. The minute the traffic light turns green, cars have no mercy and will run a pedestrian over. Do not jay walk! This is for your safety.
- The price you see is the price you pay. Tax is included in the price and you do not need to tip.
- Get your hair cut before you go. It is more expensive for different textures of hair.
- If you want to take a weekend trip outside of Seoul, especially during national holidays, plan in advance. Seoul–lites leave the city during holidays so if you wait until the last-minute, you won’t find train tickets, bus tickets or hotel rooms.
- Coffee is not strong. Also there is no drip coffee, half-and-half or sugar in the raw. Lattes taste like steamed milk. But I did like the instant coffee because it’s cheaper and hot water is readily available.
- At first everything will taste unsalted. That’s because in America we use too much salt. Your taste buds will adjust.
- Don’t eat on the go. Or drink coffee/tea on the go. It’s a cultural thing. Also, public trash cans are hard to come by.
- Meat is expensive. Chicken and pork are relatively cheaper. Take advantage of the all you can eat BBQ places, they range from $10-$13.
Despite not knowing any of this in advance, I had a wonderful experience and really learned how to adjust outside of my comfort zone. Although most of my classes were outside of my major, I learned much more about a new culture and different part of the world.