Studying Abroad in South Korea: Lessons Learned and Tips for a Smooth Transition

Posted in: Department of Economics, Overseas opportunities - study or exchange, Placements

I am Laura Murray, I am in my third year and I am currently undertaking my study year abroad placement in South Korea at Yonsei University. Studying abroad was a major consideration when choosing my university, so I had high hopes for Bath’s study abroad program. So far, it has exceeded my expectations by making the process as simple as possible and helping prepare me, such as through putting me in contact with a past study abroad student that went to Korea. However, as anticipated, I have encountered some challenges. Therefore, I have a few suggestions to make the transition to Korea, or any other country, a bit smoother.

I arrived at the end of August so have now been here almost a month. It has been incredibly exciting, but it was also overwhelming, especially with no prior experience living abroad. As a first-time traveller to Korea, I was unable to speak the language and was more unorganized than I realized. However, through my experience, I now know how to come prepared and make the first few weeks as easy as possible.

One of the most crucial tips I learned is to be as organized as possible before leaving. This means minimizing the number of tasks you must do once you arrive to reduce unnecessary stress. Specifically, this includes making the travel process and the first few weeks as simple and stress-free as possible.

When it comes to travelling, I recommend printing everything you need for the airport, even in excess, to avoid any complications when flying. You can buy a travel document holder to keep all the necessary documents, passport, money, and other essentials in one place and easy to access. Additionally, I suggest pre-booking a taxi to meet you at the airport, as it can be overwhelming to come out of the airport and navigate transportation in a new place, especially after such a long flight.

Once you arrive in Korea, British phone plans will not work without incurring massive charges. Therefore, it is essential to purchase a SIM card. There are several ways to do this, but the most convenient method is to pre-purchase a SIM card and collect it at the airport. However, if you haven't done so and find yourself in Korea, you can visit a store in person. The process is simple, all you need is cash and your passport. It is important to do this as soon as possible, as not having data in a foreign country can be stressful. Although Korea has free Wi-Fi almost everywhere, so if (like me) it takes you a few days. You will survive – just be a bit more stressed than necessary.

A useful thing to bring is cash. In Korea cash is essential for topping up a bus card (which can be bought at the airport or at almost any convenience store an
d is topped up only by cash), buying food and goods at street stalls and in clothes stores where you can get discounts for paying in cash. Furthermore, with a foreign card, whilst it should work, it sometimes fails, so it’s good to carry cash as a backup (this has happened to me and luckily I had cash). Therefore, especially during the first weeks, when you may not be familiar with cash machines, having cash on hand will be convenient.

Another useful item is medicine, as travelling and changes the in environment can leave you a bit ill. Figuring out medicines in a different language isn’t easy, as they don’t speak English in most pharmacies, especially when you’re under the weather. But don’t feel the need to bring a whole pharmacy yourself, it is relatively simple to buy them with the help of Google Translate, just avoids unnecessary hassle for the first couple weeks.

Additional recommendations include more summer clothes than you’d think (it is still very much summer weather and its mid-October as I’m writing this) and deodorant (they don’t seem to sell that here).

A significant one for me is making plans before you go. Contact others that are also going, whether it’s with people from Bath, as helpfully puts you in contact with others going to the same place, or through social media e.g. Facebook groups. It’s simple to find other people going and they are in the same boat, everyone will want to meet people and make plans. Home sickness is inevitable, making plans and meeting up with people is the best way to keep it at bay. Going out on the night I got to Korea was one of my best decisions. Being with people in the same boat made it feel so much less overwhelming and me so much more comfortable.

However, don’t be afraid to go out by yourself and explore. You’re realistically not going to be with people all the time and though it can be overwhelming at first, with the help of Naver Maps, you’ll be fine (and this is coming from someone with zero sense of direction). You’re here for a long time, don’t limit yourself. So many people go to cafes/ restaurants/ etc by themselves, don’t feel you need to be with others to experience Korea.

Lastly, take photos and videos to document your trip as much as possible, while still enjoying the experience of course. Future you will be grateful, and it's easy to forget some of the things you do when you're busy exploring.

These are the tips I wish I’d been told before coming to Korea and I’m sure I’ll discover more as I stay here.

Posted in: Department of Economics, Overseas opportunities - study or exchange, Placements


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