Studying abroad is a challenge many of us choose to face in hope of seeking better education, exploring new cultures, or simply finding a getaway from the dull routine back home. Inevitably, this choice has its consequences when it comes to lifestyle changes, and that is especially true in Korea. As Korea is a country with a unique culture based on collectivity and sharing, it comes as no surprise that living together with others is also a big part of the Korean experience. For most foreign students in Korea, life on campus is associated with mixed emotions, varying from partying with friends all night long to having to fight with someone for the sake of doing laundry. Nonetheless, due to its affordability and convenient location, dormitories remain a preferred accommodation option for international students in the country. In this article, we will discuss what to expect when living in a Korean dormitory and how to make the best out of this situation.
There are three main aspects as to why people usually resort to choosing accommodation provided by their school. First and foremost, real estate prices in Korea have skyrocketed in the past two decades and the reality is that, regardless of their nationality, not many students can afford to rent an apartment on their own. Korea’s rent system is also pretty unique since it requires tenants to pay a huge amount of money as a deposit before moving in. These sums start from approximately USD 5,000 for a single-room apartment and they need to be paid in a lump-sum. Taking the Korean cost of living for a foreign student in Seoul into account, not many people are prepared for this type of investment and that is why dormitories appear as an excellent, deposit-free alternative for most.
Besides the financial motivation, convenient location is also a plus when living in Korea and this is one more point where dormitories fail to disappoint. Dormitory buildings are available on and off-campus, depending on the university. Regardless, they are usually located within a walking distance from the educational facilities, and that should be enough for you to consider living there. Especially for foreign students in big cities like Seoul, commuting to class on a regular basis is not only an inconvenience but also a financial burden. That is right, one of the essential things you need to know about public transportation in Korea is that unlike many other countries which provide transportation cards with monthly discounts for students, everyone in Korea needs to pay the full price of their respective ride.
In addition to all the practical reasons, there are also social factors that need to be considered when choosing a place to live. If you are a people person, living in a dormitory is definitely the right decision to make. This type of environment allows you to meet many people, some of which will become your close friends and share their daily lives with you. Moreover, this multicultural coexistence teaches a lot of practical things and provides valuable insight on how to deal with different people in different situations while solving everyday problems.
In this paragraph, we will list the essentials you need to have with you when moving to a Korean dormitory. Many international students that come to Korea already have some experience of studying abroad and living on campus in another country. However, Korean dormitories have some practical specifics that foreigners do not always think of beforehand, but they need to be addressed nonetheless. Since we live in the digital age, one of the first things you need to pack is an outlet adaptor. The standard voltage in Korea is 220 V, so most power outlets here are of type C and F. While these sockets are equivalent to those in most European countries, foreign students from other parts of the world should not come unprepared.
Another crucial factor to consider when packing your luggage is the weather in Korea. It is common knowledge that summer here is hot and humid while winter is dry and cold. And yet, many expats underestimate those weather conditions when packing their luggage for Korea. This being said, students who are about to live in a Korean dormitory should prepare not only clothes according to the season but also some goods that are crucial for living here. It needs to be emphasized that despite harsh summers, not all Korean dormitories are equipped with air conditioners and those that usually have a set limit of operating hours for the device that cannot be controlled by the students. The same applies to heating in the winter, so to battle the weather conditions, it is a good idea to prepare some budget for buying a heater or a fan. Also, a humidifier and a dehumidifier are vital for your survival in the winter and in the summer, respectively.
International students who have lived in European dormitories are probably used to a system that allows you to receive, rent, or buy bedding sets and some basic toiletries at the spot. Also, a cleaning fee for the room is often included in the monthly rent in other countries. Along with other surprising things about Korean university culture, that is rarely the case in Korea. Be prepared, you will be responsible for arranging all commodities on your own, which includes everything from a pillow and a blanket to cleaning supplies and toilet paper. In addition, most dormitories have kitchens and, while communal utensils are available in many of them, buying your personal ones is definitely a plus in terms of both convenience and hygiene. Fridges are also shared by many students and if other people having unregulated access to your food supply is something that bothers you, you might consider purchasing a mini bar for your room. All this sounds like too much to prepare but, luckily, the period when new students move in overlaps with graduates moving out, so second-hand deals and donations are almost guaranteed.
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We have all probably heard of the phrase “sharing is caring” and this attitude is the key to all aspects of life in Korea, including shared accommodation. The first thing you need to remember is that you are not living alone, and that applies to those who live in a single room, too. After all, not only the rooms but also the remaining facilities in the dorm such as laundry rooms, kitchens, and lounges are meant for communal use. Therefore, it is important to take care of your personal hygiene and belongings in a way that will not inconvenience others. While you might think that most people know the basics of that by the time they are old enough to study abroad, there will certainly be something that surprises you. On the other hand, you might also be in the wrong sometimes, whether you realize it or not, so try to be understanding of possible cultural differences and try to address all issues with an open mind.
Besides those habits, daily routine is also one of the things you will need to consider when living in a Korean dormitory. Although many social gatherings and parties do happen on campus, it cannot be ignored that the main purpose of those facilities is studying. In addition, while many students from Western countries often naturally combine university life with having fun and looking for a job at the same time, in Asian culture, and that certainly includes Korea, those are three separate events. Therefore, there is a realistic chance of having a roommate or a neighbor who rarely leaves the room and spends their whole days studying, especially during the exam weeks. Try to be respectful of that and make sure to let them know in advance if you have other priorities this semester such as dating, part-time job, or night classes to avoid misunderstanding.
Lastly, another thing to know before coming to Korea as a foreign student is to always follow the rules. And believe us: there will be plenty of rules, just because that is the Korean way of organizing. Although it might be difficult to get used to the overwhelming set of restrictions and the hundreds of signs explaining what is allowed and what is not placed everywhere around you, this type of management is one of the reasons why Korea is the country we all know and love today. To begin with, most dormitories, or at least those that accommodate undergraduate students, have a strict curfew, and breaking it can result in being evicted or in your final grade being reduced. Also, smoking and drinking are usually not completely banned but rather restricted to certain areas, so it is crucial to pay attention to that because besides being scolded, you can actually get fined. In addition, Korea is a country where intimate relations are still somewhat taboo, so do not expect people around you to be understanding when you are looking for some privacy with your partner. On the other hand, one of the perks of this strict system is that if you are feeling that your rights are violated, there is always someone in charge to turn to.
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