It’s well-known that going to a new country is not an easy process. Even if you are going to stay for a couple of days, it will be difficult to adapt to a different atmosphere from the one you were used to. Now imagine staying for several months or a year as an exchange student in South Korea. This will be even harder if not prepared.
Some people like to wing it and do not plan anything for their stay. Of course, this is a personal preference, but our advice is to avoid this behavior, especially when you will stay for a long time. Another important fact is that you will need an organized plan for your new life as an exchange student in South Korea. If you decide to wing it, you will face many challenges affecting your academic performance. But don’t worry! We will tell you about 15 things to prepare for as an exchange student in South Korea.
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What You Should Pack
Packing is one of the main things that come to our minds when planning a trip. It is also time-consuming. You may spend hours browsing the internet and trying to find out what you should pack. Or you could find yourself sitting in your room with no packing plan in mind and feeling lost.
How can you avoid such negativity? Again, being organized and planning things help a lot. So please don’t try and wing it when choosing what to pack; you will thank me later!
First, you must make a list; who doesn’t love making lists? A list will help you avoid taking unnecessary things or forgetting anything you want to take with you.
Deciding what you must take can be hard, but that’s why we are here! Necessities like toothbrushes, deodorants, towels, etc., are available at local supermarkets and convenience stores. But one of the first things an exchange student to South Korea should bring is makeup. This is only because you will mostly find lighter shades rather than ones for darker skin tones.
Another thing that you should have in mind is to try and save as much money as you can; as an exchange student, you need to think of your needs in the future and focus on necessities. Therefore, you should bring your laptop and phone rather than buy new ones in South Korea.
Regarding clothes, size options are few, and you might not find the size you are comfortable with. The same applies to shoes; you must bring comfortable ones, especially if you plan to walk around and discover the place.
Our last recommendation for your packing list is a travel adapter. It will greatly help you, especially if you bring electronic devices. There is a difference between the outlets in South Korea, 220 Voltz, and those in other places like Europe.
We generated a packing list so you can download it, and don’t leave your essential stuff behind.
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Airport and Landing
Many think they only need to plan what they will do in South Korea, ignoring other important things. One of these important things is how to choose the perfect airline. When you plan to travel to any place, you must consider your comfort; it will make all the difference to your mental health when you land. If you feel good after landing, you will feel good about almost everything else!
Two airlines that many people recommend are Asiana Airlines and Korean Airlines. Both airlines are based in Korea, and this will probably make them know what you need on your way to South Korea more than other airlines. The Incheon International Airport is one of Korea’s most convenient and reliable airports. You should always choose comfort! There are ways from the Incheon International Airport to top major neighborhoods in Seoul like Gangnam, Myeongdong, and Hongdae.
Another important thing that you should plan is booking an airport taxi. This will help you head to any place you want without the hassle of searching for a taxi.
So choosing a good airline and booking an airport taxi are two important things you should do as an exchange student!
Now you might be wondering if you need a SIM card. The answer is yes. There are different ways to acquire a SIM card to choose whatever you like!
You can use eSIM, which means downloading a SIM card to your phone, and then you won’t need to buy a physical one; don’t you love technology? This will also be cheaper than buying a SIM card after you land.
Another good thing is that you will find WiFi everywhere, so you won’t have to worry about using too much data and paying too much money.
Check out our ultimate SIM, WiFi, and eSIM comparison cheat sheet!
Before you go to any new country, you must be familiar with their language; at least know the basics. This is normal when going to a country, just like a traveler. But here, as an exchange student, you should learn Korean. Put this goal as one of your priorities while preparing for the move.
Like everything else we have mentioned, learning Korean will make life easier for you while you are there. As an exchange student, learning the language will help you communicate with your professors and colleagues. Also, knowing basic Korean will make all the difference if you need to communicate with others or ask for help. What helps even more, is that Hangul, the Korean alphabet, is very easy to learn, making your journey toward learning the language easier.
The easiness of Hangul is all thanks to King Sejong the Great, who created Hangul in the 15th century, as he wanted the language to be easy for everyone to learn, no matter their social class. So now you know the importance of learning Korean!
Learn Korean History
You may wonder why you need to learn Korean history but trust me; you will need it. Learning Korean history will be seen as a sign of respect because it will show that you are making a lot of effort to be respectful.
It will also help you understand any references to a certain historical event that may be brought up in a conversation. So learning Korean history will make you fit in South Korea even more. There is nothing better than being able to participate in conversations freely. Basic things you need to know include why Korea was divided and South Korea’s history; it also won’t harm if you learn more than just that.
Know the Culture
Along with learning Korean history, you should search and learn about their culture. As an exchange student, you will spend a lot of time in South Korea, and it is better if you know what you should and shouldn’t do. Again, this is also a sign of respect.
One of the first things you should know about Korea’s culture is a shared belief everywhere; respecting your elders. They respect their elders and opinions; you will probably find this in many countries, not just South Korea. Another thing that you will find everywhere is that you shouldn’t eat loudly.
What may come as a surprise is that in South Korea, you shouldn’t tip the waiter or the server. This is not the case in European countries, for example.
The next important thing that you should prepare for is housing. Choosing where to stay depends on your preference and personality. I’m saying this because, as an exchange student, you can live on campus. However, if you enjoy the freedom and want to go out anytime, staying in college dormitories is not the best option.
If you decide to live on campus, you won’t have to worry about needing things! University dormitories have a lot of equipment that you may need. Another good news is that you can eat at the cafeteria, which is a perfect solution for people who can’t cook like me! You won’t have to worry about fees because they are not that expensive; amazing, right?
On the other hand, your options will be different if you prefer having freedom with no restrictions regarding visitors or when to return. One option you should consider is staying in a share house or flatshare; from their names, it is obvious that you will be sharing an apartment or flat with others. I recommend searching for a shared house with Korean students; this will help you practice your language!
If you would prefer something different, then you are lucky! You can find many options on Airbnb, but it may not be the best choice for an exchange student. It will cost a lot of money that you may need for more important things. Don’t let that bring you down! You can still choose to live on campus or search for a flatshare.
If you are considering renting in Korea, take a look at our house renting guide in Korea.
Travel and Transportation
First things first, don’t use Google Maps. The data on the app regarding South Korea hasn’t been updated for years, so that it won’t be the best decision. Read about the best apps to use in Korea in this post.
Now something that you would love is KTX or Korean Train Express. While you will find buses you can use, KTX is way faster. The downside is that it’s expensive and may not be the best option for an exchange student. Another transportation that isn’t budget-friendly is black cabs which are premium.
Another great method to move around is the subway, especially since it is amazing and cheap! Did I mention that they are clean too? So now you know you won’t have to worry about transportation while staying in South Korea.
Healthcare and Medical Insurance
This is probably one of the most important things on our list today. It’s the best decision to sign up for healthcare and medical insurance. It will help you as an exchange student to know that you can always go for a checkup to ensure you are okay.
You will register with South Korea’s National Health Insurance Corporation and won’t have to worry about money; it isn’t expensive. Some of the documents you will need include ones that confirm your residency, your Visa approval, and your student status. Always think of what will help you in the future!
Luckily for you and us, living costs in South Korea aren’t that expensive. Of course, living costs will differ depending on where you stay while studying. For example, if you were staying in Seoul, it would be more expensive. But in general, South Korea is cheaper than several other countries.
Our only advice regarding your living costs is to form a budget. A budget will help you organize and know where to spend your money.
I don’t know about you, but my favorite thing to talk about is food. Especially when it is as delicious as the food in South Korea. Since you will be studying in South Korea, you will have much time to try different dishes. Don’t worry if you won’t have time to eat in a restaurant sometimes, because you can always order delivery. You should also practice holding chopsticks!
The only unfortunate part is that the food there won’t be the best choice for vegetarians. This is because most of the food there includes meat or fish. But more and more vegetarian restaurants are emerging. Read here for the top 15 Vegetarian restaurants in Seoul.
Another important tip for exchange students is to try to cook meals as often. This will help you tremendously with saving money and sticking to your budget. Of course, traditional markets will be cheaper than supermarkets. If you don’t know how to cook, maybe this is your sign to try some easy dishes and go from there! You can also join a cooking class!
Don’t Forget Your Studies
This may seem obvious, but one thing you should prepare for is studying. Going to South Korea is a new experience, and you will be in awe of everything you see there. So it is important to remind yourself that you are going there as an exchange student and studying should be your top priority.
Trust me. Turning down invitations to parties or nights out is okay if you must study. People will understand. You will also find many quiet places to study, like certain cafes or libraries.
Another thing you should keep in mind is that you can have fun and go out after you study. Studying doesn’t mean not having fun or staying at your place while your roommates go out. So always remember that studying comes first and a schedule won’t be harmful.
Meet New Friends
Here is another fun thing to prepare for meeting new friends. This will be beneficial in so many things. For starters, you will have someone to talk to and won’t feel lonely. You will also have a friend whom you can practice Korean with. It will also help them to practice their English. So everyone is winning!
Another benefit is knowing the best places in town, which cafes you must try, and what places to avoid; this will enhance your learning experience.
While you can always make friends independently, you can still find a buddy. A buddy is a Korean student who will be more than happy to help you settle down and get to know everything about South Korea. Just ask the student office at your university to check if they have similar programs.
Important Apps to Download
It’s common knowledge that no matter what country you are planning to go to, you should download certain apps that will help you. Many apps will make your life easier while you are there, like:
- Kakao Talk: This is like WhatsApp but for South Korea. It is also the most popular free messaging app there.
- Kakao Metro: This is the perfect app for using subways. It will help you navigate subways in South Korea, so downloading it is a must!
- Naver Map: Remember what I said about Google Maps? You won’t have to worry about that since Naver Map is a great and reliable replacement.
- MangoPlate: When it comes to going out, it can be hard to know which restaurants you should visit; MangoPlate can help you with that! It is an app for searching for restaurants, which will be helpful!
Here is a post on the best 18 apps for traveling in South Korea.
Get to Know the City
Our last piece of advice on things an exchange student in South Korea should prepare for is to search beforehand for information regarding the city where your university will be.
This will help you become familiar with the place and not feel lost as much. You will also get to know a lot about tourist attractions you can visit while you study in South Korea.
We have told you about 15 things an exchange student in South Korea should prepare for. I guarantee these things will make your life in South Korea easier!