Out of my experience studying abroad, I learned many lessons. Many of them apply to life in general.
One main lesson I had to learn many times throughout college is help yourself before you help others. It might sound selfish, but had I done so, I probably wouldn’t have been in as bad a state financially during my time in Seoul. By helping my family and donating a significant amount of money to church during my second semester abroad, I foolishly left myself to grind and borrow money from others, while I was alone in a foreign country. Being a blessing is one thing, but becoming a burden to yourself and others is foolish, not admirable.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be compassionate and generous towards others, but we should do it wisely if we ourselves are not in a place to give a whole lot. In other words, it’s better to make a small contribution, even if our hearts swell to make a bigger impact, because it’ll mean we’ll be in a place to make a bigger impact sooner.
Another lesson I learned is, if at all possible, don’t isolate yourself from people who could be a valuable resource, support group, and community. Don’t just associate with any one ethnic group. Seems like it would be obvious, but when abroad, perhaps it is tempting to challenge yourself by doing so. Instead, you’re limiting your experience and the opportunity to forge meaningful connections.
Finally, for those thinking of studying abroad in South Korea, here’s a list of tips I have for you so you don’t repeat my mistakes:
Don’t stay at a goshiwon if you can afford not to.
It’s cramped and can bring on claustrophobia and negative thoughts if you’re stressed or not in the right frame of mind. They often aren’t in the best areas and you can expose yourself to many more potential friends by getting to know classmates from your dorm. Granted, not all goshiwons are the same and your preferences could differ, but definitely factor space and seclusion into the equation.
Don’t just hang out with Koreans
(as shared above) Sometimes being able to speak in a familiar language can be a means of rest and comfort, and being able to relate to someone who is going through a similar experience (study abroad) can be very encouraging.
Find a cafe whose the wifi actually works
before paying 6,000 to 8,000won on an Americano to sit there.
If you do find a cafe whose wifi works, make sure to check their hours.
I absolutely loved working at 24hr cafes but not all cafes are. It really sucks to spend money on a drink only to find out that it closes in an hour. Namu cafe is one I regularly went to in Sinchon (featured here).
Don’t keep buying coffees and desserts just to use a cafe’s wifi.
If you can’t tell that coffee shop culture is big in Sinchon and Seoul in general, then maybe my 3 tips focusing on it will shine a light. Or perhaps I just had an unhealthy love of coffee. Either way, a great chunk of my budget went to coffee shops and that is both something I came to regret and seemed unavoidable.
Go shopping with a local who knows where to go for big sales/discounts.
When I returned to Korea for a wedding in October, I spontaneously made a friend while eating a stew at a restaurant in Sinchon. The next day she helped me find a cheap goose down winter coat at Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong. Can’t beat local knowledge!
Don’t overwork yourself with side jobs or become lured by the thought of making extra money.
Remember that you are a student! Focus your attention on your studies since there are enough distractions to pull you away as it is.
At the same time, don’t be ashamed to be the only foreigner working among Koreans.
I probably learned more Korean at the restaurant I worked at than in all my classes that year. Immersion does reap its own benefits.
As a female, don’t expect to meet a great guy at a club or at a bar.
Before anyone gets riled up by this tip, I am well aware that Conor McGregor met his faithful girlfriend at a bar, and that the stereotype often doesn’t hold true. However, I talked to many girls who were charmed by a cute Korean guy who took interest in them at a bar and then found him to be trouble or not what he seemed. It might be common sense to an extent, but as a foreigner, don’t fall for the charm at least. Take your time to get to know people in group/social settings.
To follow with the last piece of advice, don’t accept invitations to go to DVD bangs!!
DVD bangs are shady places that are almost like karaoke bars where you can watch movies in smaller, private rooms. I was lucky to see other blogs who gave the same advice around the time I was studying abroad. Basically, many guys will try to take advantage of foreign girls who don’t know better by bringing them to such locations. If a guy respects you, he’ll at least take you to the movie theater, not to one of these where questionable things happen.
Be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t afford.
I think if I was staying in a dorm room, I would’ve found that a lot more students were conscious of how quickly purchases could add up and of the need to take it easy with eating out. Don’t feel compelled to go to endless social gatherings and meals or feel the need to spend in order to participate. There are plenty of other ways to have fun, one of which is enjoying a meal cooked in.
Finally, make time to rest!
Between the classes, studying, and traveling to all the cool spots in Seoul and beyond, it can be hard to take a moment to pause sometimes. However, it was rest which helped me recharge for my last semester of college with 7 classes. Chances are you’ll be returning to another semester or even a couple more years of college. Don’t burn yourself out.
I hope that this post shed light on a few aspects of studying abroad in South Korea and what to avoid while you’re at it. Stay tuned for more posts detailing tips by category as well as how I went about studying Korean. As always, I’m open to questions so please feel free to comment below! And once again, thank you for reading!