5 things to do in South Korea as a student
Are you planning to study abroad in South Korea? Or maybe you’re already there and don’t quite know what to do in your free time? I studied in Korea for a semester and I’ve gathered some tips for you!
1. As a student, you should eat a lot in South Korea!
One of the cornerstones of every culture are the traditional foods and dishes they have. In Korea, the cuisine traditions go way back, to the 13th century and even before that foods like kimchi (김치) were part of the cuisine in one of the old Three Kingdoms of Korea, Baekje (18 BCE – 660 CE). There are many traditional dishes that are still popular. Some restaurants have their own twists to update the dishes, like, for example, adding cheese and even french fries to the traditional braised chicken dish jjimdak (찜닭).
There are so many delicious traditional dishes in Korea that you will for sure find something you really like! My recommendation is bibimbap (비빔밥), it’s my favourite Korean dish. I advise you to not be prejudiced and try out everything. Eating out is cheap and a great way to be adventurous.
When you want to save a penny or two, head to the convenience stores found at every corner. They offer a great selection of kimbap (김밥) and cup ramyeon (람연), also known as instant cup noodles. It’s best to try as many different ones as possible, this way you will find your favourite ones. Typically, there’s also the possibility to warm up and prepare your food at the store, so if you are in a hurry, it’s really, well, convenient. If you have a few minutes to spare, most stores also offer a place to sit down and enjoy your meal. So, go ahead and take a seat!
Korean food tends to be quite spicy, but you’ll get used to it before you even notice. To sooth out the burning feeling in your tongue and mouth, enjoy some tasty Korean desserts. Probably the most popular one is bingsu (빙수) or patbingsu (팥빙수), also known as Korean shaved ice. Its peak season is naturally in the summer, but it can be enjoyed all year round. The shaved ice is served with different toppings like fruits, berries, red bean paste (patanggeum, 팥앙금), nuts or chocolate. There are also many options, so try them out!
You might also be interested in: Top 5 reasons to study in South Korea
One of my favourite Korean desserts is simply an ice cream that you can find in most convenience stores in South Korea. It is called samanco (싸만코), an ice cream version of the traditional bungeo-ppang (붕어빵). Bungeo-ppang is a fish-shaped pastry filled with sweetened red bean paste. It is one of the most common winter street food in Korea. Samanco, also fish-shaped, has a thin waffle instead of pastry and a filling of vanilla ice cream with a thin layer of red bean paste.
All in all, food and eating are very important in South Korea. The saying Bap meogeosseoyo? (밥 먹었어요?) or “Have you eaten?” is also used as a greeting, so it really highlights the importance of food and eating. Going to lunch or dinner with your friends, classmates and colleagues is highly recommended since eating is seen as a social event. Say yes when you are asked to join, you might meet new people and make new friends.
2. Norebang is a must if you’re a student in Seoul, South Korea
When you stroll the streets of Seoul, or any other Korean city really, you will see signs with 노래방 everywhere. Norebang (노래방) is Korean karaoke. “Nore” means song or sing and “bang” means room, so literally translated it means song/singing room. It is very popular among all ages in South Korea. You can go and rent a room for a couple of hours with a group of friends, with your colleagues or even alone if you feel like singing your heart out. When visiting Korea, you should try out norebang at least once. It is a big part of today’s culture in SK.
There are many different options for norebang rooms. Usually the prices range between 5000 and 30 000 won. There are rooms for one or two people but also for bigger groups. Typically, the norebang room is equipped with some flashy lights, a sofa and a table. For singing there are usually two mics and, to add a little spice to the entertainment, a couple of tambourines. Depending on the place, you can also purchase some drinks and snacks.
The karaoke machine can be controlled with a remote controller. It can be quite tricky to use, however, so I recommend you go (for the first time) with a Korean friend or with someone else who knows what they are doing. You can also check internet for some help with the remote controller. There are songs to sing for everyone, ranging from old Korean songs to the most popular k-pop hits of today as well as western chart hits.
Norebang is a lot of fun, especially with your group of friends after a nice dinner with a few beers and soju. You can even end up realising that one of your friends is actually a fan of the same group or artist as you are! That’s how I found one of my best friends in Korea.
3. Be active with the international student organization
As far as I know, there should be an international student organization in every Korean university that has international exchange or degree students. The organizations have different names in different universities. In HUFS the name is simply International Student Organization or shortly ISO. In the university where I studied the equivalent organization was called International Student Lounge, ISL.
These organizations usually are there to support you, to help you in your new home country with everyday matters as well as organize trips to visit amazing places in South Korea. I recommend being active with the organization! I wasn’t until the latter half of my semester and I really regret it. Usually the students who run the organization are interested in getting to know international students. This gives you the opportunity to make friends more easily, also with other international students!
Every organization has their own activities they host. During my semester in South Korea, our ISL organized a few trips like one to Gangnam to get to know the area and experience the famous Korean nightlife but also days when we cooked some Korean dishes like kimbap. As for Asia Exchange’s partner university, HUFS, it seems that their ISO is quite active. They have their own Facebook page and an Instagram account (@hufsisoglobal).
The international student organization students are also a big help when you need to deal with authorities at the bank, health care clinic etc. You will probably get much more out of your exchange when you are active with the organization. Participate and enjoy the activities they organize! It’s a lot of fun and you will get to know people you maybe wouldn’t meet without and see places you wouldn’t visit by yourself.
4. Explore festivals while studying in South Korea
All Korean universities host their own festival, usually in May. The university festival history dates back to 600 years ago. The festivals last typically for a few days. They are free for the hosting university’s students. Food and drinks are being sold and there will be performances by the university’s different student clubs etc. It’s nice to see your friends perform and cheer them on.
The highlight of the festivals are the visiting famous artists and idols. I visited my host university’s festival as well as Hongik University’s. Altogether, I saw Lovelysz, Penomeco, Zico, Hyuna, DPR LIVE, iKON and Epik High. They are all very popular both in South Korea as well as internationally. They are also all representing different genres, so it was nice to experience such different performances. If you are into k–pop, or just good music in general, and awesome live performances, I recommend you visit at least your own host university’s festival.
Trying to find out about other universities’ festivals can be a bit tricky due to all the information usually being only in Korean. Ask your Korean friends or the international student organisation of your university for help. You might even find out that there are people around you who are fans of the same artists and would be more than happy to go with you. To some universities you have to buy tickets for the festival, in this case, it is very hard if not impossible to get them, there are also some festivals you have to be invited to by a student of the university. The rest are free and open to all university students.
Our partner university Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) hosted their festival in 2019 on 14th and 15th of May. They had a line-up of top names like Hyuna and Simon D performing.
5. Be adventurous with your studies in South Korea
You are going abroad to study, pick courses you wouldn’t be able to study back home! Learn Korean, study Korean politics and history or popular culture. You will get to know your host country better and thus, have a better understanding why some things are the way they are in Korea. It will also be easier for you to adapt to the culture when you understand it more.
There might be some restrictions or requirements from your home university regarding what kind of courses you can take to get the credits from them. But try to convince your study advisor that it would really benefit you to study these subjects, that is, if you are even a bit interested in culture etc. Maybe you can take mostly the required courses and one or two courses related to Korea.
Of course, in a mega city like Seoul, there is so much to do that you will probably never be bored. But sometimes, when you have too many options, it’s hard to decide what you should do. In a case like that, I hope these five tips would help you to enjoy your time in South Korea to the fullest. When abroad, do things you wouldn’t do back home, take part in activities that might seem weird and don’t be prejudiced. Get out of your comfort zone and you will learn so much of yourself!
Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
This article was written by our intern Ruusu!