How to Prepare for a Study Abroad in Seoul

First and foremost, congratulations on choosing to make this incredible journey!

Once the high of deciding to study abroad wears down, preparing for your study abroad in Seoul, South Korea may seem quite daunting. And though it is normal to feel nervous, or even intimidated, I have compiled a few tips to help alleviate those nerves. 

Academics

Consider the various courses offered at your program of choice. If you want to get ahead or progress as normal towards your major, chances are you will be able to find a class pertaining to your degree. Although, you might also want to consider enrolling in courses that are unique to the country or university, because what better place to learn about such topics than the country itself? 

It is important, however, that you discuss with your academic advisor from your home university the courses you plan on taking abroad. Regardless if the class counts toward your major or not, notify your advisor of your plan to ensure you will receive credit back home. This is especially important if the course does apply to your major, since it may take weeks for the department to approve it. In order to prevent any potential stress, handling this task prior to class registration is greatly encouraged.

Always keep in contact with your various advisors, program specialists, and international staff present at your host university. These individuals are especially helpful and will provide you with reminders for important dates. If you have any questions, no matter the topic, these are the best people to reach out to. They are very considerate and willing to work with you as long as you communicate with them.

USAC students participate in Tea Ceremony during Tea World Culture class
USAC students participate in Tea Ceremony during Tea World Culture class

Traveling Documents

If you have not already done so, it is important that you apply for a passport months in advance prior to your trip. Be sure that the documents provided to prove your citizenship and identity are appropriate. A short form birth certificate is no longer acceptable, and it may take weeks to receive a long form one. Also note when your passport expires in the event that you must renew it. Even though you have the option to expedite the passport process at a higher price, any sort of delay may set you back if too close to an application deadline. 

Furthermore, depending on the length of the program term you choose to study abroad in South Korea, it is possible that you may need to apply for a Visa. This may be a demanding process, but USAC is there to provide assistance every step of the way. The main takeaway is to start everything ahead of time!

Applications

Filling out the application for your host university is self explanatory, however you might want to keep a few things in mind. Double check that all your information is correct. When listing your US phone number, be sure to include +1 before the area code. Quite similarly, don’t forget to include USA after entering the full address for your home and university. These details may be easy to overlook and although you will have future opportunities to make changes, no harm in taking care of it from the start. 

Payments

Upon receiving notification of your acceptance from your host university and possibly the housing office, make a note of payment deadlines. This is also the time to tie up any loose ends with your financial aid office if appropriate. While your tuition is paid to USAC, your residency is usually paid directly to the university’s housing office itself, or to the apartment office if residing off campus. Whilst card is commonly accepted, you may instead be expected to send a direct wire transfer, which can be done through your bank. This process may take up to a week or even more before it is received, therefore it is once again important that you take care of it as soon as possible to avoid complications. 

Credit cards are generally accepted at most places in Seoul, but having cash handy is definitely recommended in the event that you are unable to use your card. You will have multiple opportunities to exchange your money to Korean won, such as at the airport or at exchange shops in Myeongdong. You can even take out money from global ATM machines located on campus or at the subway station. Just remember to notify your bank that you plan to use your card abroad.

Packing

Pack light. Some, if not most, of the clothing and shoes that you pack will rarely be worn. This of course depends on how long you plan on studying abroad, but a simple wardrobe and laundry machine will help a little go a long way. Seoul is abundant with cute fashion, cosmetics, and delicious snacks, thus leaving space for souvenirs is something you definitely want to keep in mind. Basic toiletries and dorm necessities can be purchased at convenience stores found at almost every block.

It is also important that you pack with the typical weather in mind. Seoul can be extremely cold during the winter, but very hot and humid during the summer, as it is monsoon season.

Stock up on medications, such as pain and stomach relief pills, cold and flu medicine, and any other prescriptions you may need before leaving the country. You will be able to find similar medication in South Korea, but ingesting medicine your body is already accustomed decreases your chance of having a reaction. Get vaccinated ahead of time in case multiple dosages are required.

USAC students post for a photo during a cultural field trip
USAC students post for a photo during a cultural field trip

Recommended Apps

Google Maps does not function accurately in South Korea. You may be able to find basic locations, but if you want precise directions, your best bet is to download apps such as KakaoMap or Naver Map. Some navigation maps may even include subway and bus features that will help you travel around Seoul like a local.

During your trip abroad, you can expect to meet a lot of new people from all over the world. Joining official Facebook groups allows you to introduce yourself to fellow students. Here you can discuss classes, reveal interests, and even ask questions since someone is bound to have experienced what you are going through. Additionally, lots of students end up creating group chats on KakaoTalk, where you can further plan outings to concerts, restaurants, or other cities in South Korea.

Seoul is fairly English friendly, but it never hurts to pick up on the important words and phrases in Korean. You may want to make yourself familiar with common terms used for ordering food, making purchases, and riding public transportation. If you do not want to invest in a pocket sized dictionary or phrasebook, a translator app should help you get by. Google Translate is commonly used, but Papago is arguably more accurate for Korean translations.

One final tip loosely related to accessing these apps in Seoul. Before you depart, alert your cell phone service provider that you will be going abroad. From here you can set up an international phone plan, or wait until you touch down in Korea to purchase a sim card. You also have the option to rent a portable WiFi egg to maintain contact with others.  

Manners and Etiquette

Like anywhere, Korea has a unique culture where proper greetings and behavior differ from the US. When greeting locals in South Korea, a slight bow and simple hello, or “annyeonghaseyo,” is sufficient. You can also use the same phrase and gesture to say goodbye. 

There are two ways to express politeness to others when accepting or handing over an item. For example, if you are paying for something at a convenience store, you can give your credit card to the cashier with two hands. Another method would be to hand over your card with your right hand, while your left hand rests on your forearm. This may be a bit hard to envision, but you’ll get the hang of it once you arrive!

Remember these tips and I am sure that you will have an amazing experience in Seoul. Don’t procrastinate, ask questions, and most importantly, have fun!

Lauren Apacible is an alumna of the USAC Seoul program. She attends the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During her time abroad she served as a Digital Documenter for USAC.