Things I Should Have Known Before I Went to Korea

Ok. This is probably like, the most requested post ever in my blogging life, and here I am. Doing it. So this post is based on my personal experience during 4 years of my undergraduate study in South Korea. This post is purely subjective, they’re from my perspective and point of view. 

Things ARE different from each individual and the purpose of this writing is to share my experience so that maybe you could get the big picture.

For the background story, I was in South Korea from early 2011 to early 2015, I was in Busan, specifically in Kyungsung University for 4 years, majoring in Fashion Design and Merchandising.
So here’s some stuffs I hoped I knew before I flew to Korea for my under graduate study!

1. Good Bye English, Hello broken Korean!

Some Korean University promote their school to have “International Course” for foreign students, unless you’re going to be in Korea only for exchange, like a semester of a year, IT’S A TRAP.
On paper, they might seem to have a great program for foreign students that have 0 Korean ability, and they’re probably saying,” you don’t know Korean? Oh, it’s OK! Look at our international programs! You’ll survive!” – if, IF, you’re in Korea for like, a semester, or a year, you’ll most likely to survive. But if you’re registering for the whole under graduate program, without knowing how to Korean? You’re doomed. In fact, most universities do ask for a TOPIK (a Korean language test, much like TOEFL or IELTS) before they can admit you to their school.

It’s common for some foreign students to gave up their exchange program because they were promised “English Class”-es, only to see that their class is entirely in Korean and the professors seem to “didn’t care” for the international student to fully understand the lesson. I once witness an angry Turkish girl asking for explanation for her supposedly “All English Class” program is definitely not all in English.

Also, it’s also common for the professor to,”F*ck it, I’m teaching in Korean” in the middle of the semester – even though in the syllabus it’s clearly stated that the class IS an English class.

I don’t blame the Universities, of course. Sometime it can be a miscommunication between the foreign PR team and the main office, mistranslation, bla-bla-bla.

I dig my way, so does all of my friends, by taking class from other major. We survived the semester by taking English class from English Literature major or we search the whole syllabus for a foreigner’s class. Even though my major didn’t have English class at all, I took classes like, ”British and American Current Issue”, “English Seminar in Print Media” or even basic English class taught by American professor. I’ll learn from “How do you do” once again just to raise my average score.
In my University case, the “Practical English” is taught 100% in Korean, and it’s a mandatory class. I once got a “C” because I can’t translate the English sentences to Korean. OH COME ON. (And fyi the Korean professor picked the MOST RANDOM sentence ever, it’s like no context or anything, just. Random. Sentences.). And after that tho I retake the class and the teacher loves me so much she gave me a lot of A+ even though I skipped class like, 3 times <3 교수님 사랑해요.

Some of you might thought,”Great! Less English class, more Korean class, I can definitely advance my Korean language skill so much more!” – think again, when the semester start and your actual major class starts (not Korean classes for foreigner) like for example for me the first semester there’s a class called “패션과 예술 – Fashion and Art) , it was 100% in Korean and it’s a theory class.
 By then, you’re expected to be able to read the whole text book, to be able to write essays and reports, to be able to do presentation IN KOREAN. Yes, they need a college level Korean for the class, but what can you expect? It’s University, not a language course program. 6 months of learning Korean is definitely not enough for me, I was like a second grade elementary school kid got thrown into a uni class. I understand nothing for the first month. Heck, I still write like an elementary school kid on my 4th year essay.

And if you think learning English in Korean is easy, think again.
First semester for me was hard, it was hard for EVERYONE. But I survived and here I am! J I still think if you know zero Korean then you’ll probably have to suffer 100x more for the whole semester.
However, I still think that if you’re going to live in a country for years ahead, it’s only polite that you actually learn the language to communicate. I’m sure you’ll be more appreciated and you’ll adapt much, much faster. Even so, broken Korean is the way to live!

Now, to summarize the first point, undergraduate in Korea = Korean is mandatory.

2. The Dorm?

Most foreign students are probably sent into the dormitory for the first semester. Dormitories for each university is different from each other, some are close to the uni, inside the uni, or even separated far from the uni. It’s really different from each uni.

But one think for sure, you have to share room with someone. Up until last year, my uni still lets the foreigners to pick their own roommate. But since there’s a lot of confusions and problems, they didn’t allow it again L luckily I graduated already, so it’s no longer my problem anymore.

Pros of living in dorm :

Cheaper living cost (dorm fee probably include breakfast + dinner already), closer to uni (my dorm is IN the uni, so it’s close to everywhere), can know people from the dorm, dorm facilities (study room or internet cafes), parents would probably feel safer because it’s in the school responsibility, can participate in dorm events (like hiking or sport events), less complicated system (probably they have someone that can speak English to inform you stuffs).

Cons of living in dorm :

Strict rules (night curfews, room hygiene is checked regularly), have to share room with someone (at least 2 people/room, there’s also dorm with 4, 6, to 8 people) – some have to share bathroom too, have to be very considerate of other students (usually with noises, Korean have the most sensitive ears I guess – always complaining about noise!), have to empty room when you’re traveling back home, have to move room once every semester, some dorm banned the use of electronic devices such as heater, rice cooker, electric stove, etc.

Usually people get sick of the strict rules and the room is usually smaller than a regular one room, and plus you have to share. Usually, by the time you’re a senior, the room will be too full with stuffs (if you’re a big spender, like me). Not like the Korean that stays in the dorm, they can always send their luggage back home, while for us, dorm is our house!

Some uni also require a minimal average score to be able to enter the dorm. In my uni, you’re considered as pretty smart to be able to stay in the dorm, especially when you’re in your 4th year because they cut the quota as they provide more rooms for the freshman. In my uni all foreigner are automatically got admitted to the dorm as long as they didn’t break the rules.

If you decided to live along in a one room, it will cost you more and plus, the key deposit money in Korea is hella expensive! And you have to learn to separate your trash.

3. Alcohol is not a choice.

In Korea, school actually pays you to drink. Yes, they treat you to a drink to get the freshmen and the juniors closer to the professor and to their senior. And that’s actually a culture. Later on, company also treat you to dinner and drinks, and this is the uni effort to make you use to it.

While usually for the first year alcohol is not a choice, it's a must – they’ll probably let you pass if you’re a foreigner with religion or health issue. Undeniably you probably will get closer to your classmates with a drink or two, but for the freshmen usually the seniors are going to force you to drink until you blacked out.

It’s the welcoming culture, and most of the freshmen are those who just graduated high school, with their alcohol tolerance at the lowest and the free flow soju and beer, it’s natural to be super drunk at the welcoming party.

Of course it drinking alcohol is not your thing, strongly voice your opinion and reject it. They’ll mostly going to understand your situation. Or, If you think you couldn’t reject the offer, just skip the event! (PS. Most all school events, especially that have overnight stays will ALWAYS have alcohol). If you’re Korean, you’ll probably be alienated and people will think you’re weird and stuff, but since you’re a foreigner, just state your reasons and they’ll understand.

4. Is Korean Racist?

This is probably the most asked question ever. Maybe because of Indonesian those are mostly Muslims and wears hijab. For myself, because I personally been in a serious case of racism, but some of my friends have had them. This issue will probably not only for those who want to continue their undergraduate study but since a lot of people seems to be curious....

In my opinion, some of the older generations are still very conservative and they’re probably didn’t have a lot of information about outside world as much as the younger generation. Once or twice an old man scolded me because we were “noisy” while the Korean highschoolers in the same bus are 50 times noisier than us. For many Koreans, Indonesian language seems very fast, and when you listen to a fast faced foreign language, I do think you feel that it’s noisy. And the old man said, “Speaks in OUR LANGUAGE, OUR LANGUAGE” – in Korean, obviously.

Do I think he’s rude? Yes, definitely. I will never saw in Indonesia, an Indonesian in a public place, to approach a random chatting foreigner to say, “HALO? USE INDONESIAN PLEASE, INDONESIAN!” – that’s not even imaginable.

But, this event didn’t make me generalize all Koreans are racist, or all old people in Korea is racist. We’ll probably at fault too for “chatting” on the bus. We did talk nasty about him silently because the old man kept glancing at us. Lol. It’s a small event that I can scoff it off.

South Korea is a homogenous country. They probably never met someone “so different” than themselves, that they didn’t know what to do, or which one is consider polite or you-just-cross-the-line.

For example, you’re a Muslim, and you politely reject a pork dish. Suddenly your friend acts like, “Why don’t you eat pork? Come on, try it once, try it!!” and slightly forcing you to eat pork, or they’ll like “Why doesn’t she eat pork? That’s weird! So you say she never ate pork once in her lifetime? Wow!”.

Remember, they probably sound like a total assh*les, but they probably didn’t have any clue about you, your culture and your country. So, just chill off, and if you like to explain your situation, then go ahead. If they made fun of you, just ignore it and laugh it off, they probably didn’t do it on purpose to hurt you.

Racism in Korea does not only happen to foreigners, even Korean are 'racist' toward their own kind. I did read a good blog post about racism in Korea, but it was a while back and when I tried to look for it in google, I'm surprised to see on how many articles there are about racism in Korea! 

Here's a wikipedia article about racism in South Korea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_South_Korea

Back again, if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice back to you.

So, that's it for today! Sorry I didn't proof read this post and please comment down below if you want to ask / add something! Again, all of these are from my head, from the way I see South Korea from all the 4 years I spent living there. I don't generalize Korean and I did not write this post to mock them or anything. 

Before I end this post, I want to say that I joined KBS World Radio Korean Contest, and here's my video! 

Thankyou so much for reading and your support! Ciao! 

Where to find me :
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  1. Aku speechless bacanya. Kayaknya sulit banget buat kita hidup di Korea.
    Tentang yang bapak-bapak itu, orang Indo bilang noisy doang kalo nadanya keras *I think*
    Paling pol pernah disuruh temen ngomong pake bahasa Indonesia kalo aku pake bahasa daerah. Hihi

  2. I do think they r a bit rude to foreigners even though i din been to korea b4... nice post too! thanks for sharing :)


  3. Interesting post! My friend (who went to Hongik Uni for some time) had a similar experience with the language... what was described as an international class was a class in Korean with some international students thrown in. Hopefully they solve this misinformation about "English" university programs. I myself went to a Korean language class the first few months I came here. The teacher didn't know any English, and the textbook was completely in Korean despite it being a beginner's class, so Naver Dictionary became our best friend! :'D

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the part about racism... most Koreans really seem oblivious about a lot of other cultures! I think it's slowly changing for the better, though. And as a white girl I'm privileged haha. But it's strange to hear people talking about you in Korean because they think I don't understand a word they're saying... ^^' Does that happen to you, too?

  4. I'm planning to apply for exchange in korea for possibly my third year of university and I'm debating on either seoul national university and korea university, do you think they'll have some more english classes than in busan? After reading your post, I'm actually pretty scared of going. Although I really only need to pass the course to get credits at my own university, I would like to learn something. My understanding of the korean language is pretty limited, I can read it and when ahjumma's and them talk to me in restaurants when i was in korea, I was able to understand that - but beyond that, I do get pretty lost.

    Also, what made you decide on going to korea for your undergrad instead of doing it at home? Thanks!!

  5. halo kak apakabar? ^^ kak numpang tanya dong.. bulan agustus nanti, bulan ke 8 aku disini. menurut kakak dengan dapet topik level 3 udah bisa ngikutin atleast half undergrad classes engga? aku topik terakhir bakal ambil bulan juli ini, trus september orientasi,, tapi aku kok kyknya masih gayakin masuk kuliah tp bhs koreanya kelas 초급 ㅠㅠ jgnkan nulis 리포트, nulis 글쓰기 aja stuck sampe 300ㅠㅠ trus pas profesornya kasih kuliah, kakak boleh ambil foto atau recording gitu engga? yg aku takut sih aku 100% engga ngerti ntar profesornya jelasin apa, ntar akhir2nya aku fail ㅠㅠ mohon sarannya ya kak, 고맙습니다^^


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