Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Travel Tips & Tricks for Seoul

June 22, 2022
By Angelina Oh, CAS '23

Seoul National University, Korea

Angelina is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing her experience abroad during the Spring 2022 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

Studying abroad in Seoul was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made during my time at Penn and I wanted to share with those who are interested in going to Korea, either to study abroad or just to visit, some things I wished I had known before going!

Food & Café Culture: You’ll notice when navigating the restaurants in Seoul that a lot of them are specialty restaurants (in that they specialize in one or few menu items within the same category). This is especially convenient when you’re searching for a specific meal because you’ll know that the specialty restaurants will have mastered their recipe from only making and serving a select number of items. Eating out is way more affordable in Korea than eating out in Philly, not only because the food itself is cheaper but because there’s also no tax or tip! You’ll also notice that you may spend more time in cafés in Korea than you do in the US because when eating out with friends, there’s a culture around not spending too much time in the restaurant but more so going to a café after your meal to talk for as long as you want. There are so many pretty cafés in Korea that they’re also definitely worth checking out alone!

Public Transportation: A key thing to keep in mind when navigating public transportation is to make sure you tap your transportation card TWICE: once when you enter and once when you leave. This will be pretty obvious to do for subway lines since you can’t exit the station without tapping out, but it’s a lot easier to forget when riding buses. Unlike what we’re used to with the SEPTA where we pay a flat fee no matter how far we go, the Korean system charges depending on the distance you travel. Another important tip is to download Naver Maps or Kakao Maps; these apps give much more precise directions when navigating the complex subway and bus lines in Korea (in comparison to Google Maps). Bonus hack for using these apps is that it will tell you which cart number (e.g. 3-4, 6-2, etc.) will get you to your final location the fastest by minimizing the time it takes for you to walk towards the nearest transfer or exit.

Cars: This is a quick one but just be careful of cars when you’re walking around. In Korea, cars (and motorcycles) have the right of way rather than the pedestrian so they will not wait for you to cross. Please make sure you navigate the streets carefully!

Friends: This isn’t specific to studying abroad in Korea but just know that during your time abroad, it may be difficult to form a cohesive friend group that you spend all your time with similar to what you may be used to back at Penn. It’s still a possibility but I think the beauty of studying abroad is meeting new people from all over the world so it’s really valuable to take advantage of that! You can still develop really close friendships regardless of whether or not you establish a friend group. I have this distinct memory of eating dinner with some new friends I was introduced to through one of my friends; we were seven people sitting at one table and each person was from a different country, which I thought was so cool, and one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities you get from a semester abroad.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list of all the things to look out for when in Korea but some key things that I’ve noticed after living there for an extended period of time. I’ve been to Korea several times before this semester, but since this was my first time living here for a decent amount of time, I learned a lot more than I thought I would. I think this experience has taught me that you can learn something new from each place you visit and every time you revisit as well!

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.