How To's

Not Your Basic Life in Korea Survival Guide: How to SLAY in Korea

Coming to Korea for vacation? Coming to Korea work in the military, or as an English teacher? Coming to Korea to study abroad at a college or university? No matter what, don't just stay in Korea.

SLAY in Korea

Although it was a little over six years ago, I still remember the first time I came to Korea. After months of planning and preparation, I was ready to study abroad at The Fordham-Sungkyunkwan Summer Institute in International Law (what a mouthful!) held in downtown Seoul. I was also ready to complete a human rights internship at NKnet, the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights.

What I wasn’t ready for was, well, life in Korea. I could read and write Korean, but I could barely speak it, which sucked as I tried to move from my hotel to my new home with the help of a realtor who could barely speak English. (I had decided not to stay in the dormitory on campus.) To make matters worse, there were so much more than apartments to choose from! I didn’t know the difference between a gosiwon and a one-room. Do you?

In the end, I didn’t know how to plan my life in Korea, or what to prepare for my life in Korea. I didn’t even know what to expect! So, I made a lot of mistakes. Well, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I made. In Not Your Basic Life in Korea Survival Guide: How to Slay in Korea, find out what you should say in Korea, and where you should stay in Korea.

What should I say in Korea?

Learning Korean isn’t easy! After all, many foreigners spend months and years studying Korean but never manage to graduate from beginner’s Korean. The good news is this: You don’t have to be fluent in Korean to live in Korea. Of course, being fluent in Korean does make living here easier and more enjoyable. For example, if you’re trying to make Korean friends, then being fluent in Korean (and familiar with Korean culture) is a must!

At the very least, learning how to talk like a local will help you deal with the locals, especially when you walk into a restaurant and want to order something off of the menu or catch a taxi and want to tell the driver where to go. If your Korean isn’t good, you may end up ordering something you didn’t mean to order or going somewhere you didn’t mean to go!

So, I’m going to teach you six “survival Korean” phrases and tell you about five tips and tricks to help you become fluent in Korean.

6 “Survival Korean” Phrases

These six “survival Korean” phrases aren’t hard, and learning them will help you hit the ground running as soon as you arrive in Korea. After all, you don’t want to get lost as soon as you get off the plane and go from the airport to the AirBnB!

  1. 안녕하세요 (an-nyong-ha-se-yo) – Hello.
  2. 몰라요 (mol-la-yo) – I don’t know.
  3. 도와주세요 (do-wa-joo-se-yo) – Please help me.
  4. 이거 (ee-go) – This.
  5. 그거 (geu-go) – That.
  6. 감사합니다 (kam-sa-ham-ni-da) – Thank you.

Further reading: 15 Korean Phrases You Should Learn First

5 Tips and Tricks to become Fluent in Korean

These five tips and tricks to become fluent in Korean will help you fix common mistakes you might be making if you are studying Korean right now. If you are going to be studying Korean later, then these tips and tricks will help you get ahead of the class.

  1. Learn 한글 (han-geul)! — Learning how to read, write, and pronounce 한글 before or soon after you start learning Korean will make it easier to become fluent in Korean. Going forward, you’ll get a better grasp on difficult grammar and complex vocabulary if you know your 한글.
  2. Listen to Korean music! — Listening to Korean pop or Korean hip hop will make it easier to become fluent in Korean. Being able to hear, or parse, Korean is just as important as being able to read and write it. It’ll also help you learn how to speak it.
  3. Watch Korean dramas and variety shows! — Watching Running Man can be entertaining and educational, especially if you want to become fluent in Korean. The Korean spoken on a daily basis by locals in Korea is very different from what you’ll find in a textbook. The best way to keep up with modern Korean (slang, common abbreviations, etc.) is to consume mainstream Korean media.
  4. Read Korean children’s books! — Reading Korean books may not be as much fun as watching Korean dramas and variety shows, but you know what to do if you want to become fluent in Korean. You’re not a child, but for all intents and purposes, your language skills are at the beginner’s level. Why not start with a children’s book written in Korean?
  5. Partner up! — Having a Korean language buddy will definitely make it easier to learn Korean. Two heads are better than one, especially if the head helping you already knows Korean.

Where should I stay in Korea?

Some neighborhoods in Seoul, which is home to the largest population of foreigners in Korea, are more foreigner-friendly than others. In fact, it could be the difference between being one of many foreigners in your neighborhood and being the only foreigner in your neighborhood. Of course, having other people who are in a similar situation as you are will make your time in Korea less lonely, especially if you are traveling solo.

So, I’m going to tell you about the foreigner-friendly neighborhoods in Seoul that made it into the top five. I’m also going to teach you the difference between gosiwons and “one rooms” once and for all!

The Top 5 Foreigner-friendly Neighborhoods in Seoul

  1. Itaewon
  2. Hongdae
  3. Sinchon/Ewha
  4. Myeongdong
  5. Dongdaemun

Hongdae (home to Hongik University), Sinchon (home to Yonsei University), and Ewha (home to Ewha University) are so close together that they’re often considered one neighborhood. Despite their differences when it comes to their locations, they have a lot in common such as a young population of Koreans and foriegners that seems to take to the streets whether it’s day or night and stretches of street food vendors, Korean beauty shops, and cheap restaurants, bars, and clubs that will have you coming back for more.

Gosiwons, One Rooms, Officetels, and Apartments

Once you’ve picked a neighborhood to live in, it’s time to pick a place to call home. I recommend using an English-speaking realtor. They are easy to find on Craigslist Seoul. Without the help of a realtor, you’ll have to go out on your own. Unfortunately, “survival Korean” can only go so far, and it’s important to make an informed decision about your new home away from home.

Size

Number of Rooms

Bathroom

Security Deposit (Key Money)

Monthly Rent

Gosiwons

Cramped One furnished room Private or community Starting from $0

Starting from $175

One-rooms

Cozy One furnished room Private Starting from $0

Starting from $300

Apartments

Cozy, comfortable, or spacious One or more furnished or unfurnished rooms Private or shared Starting from $1,000 Starting from $300
Officetels Comfortable One furnished or unfurnished room Private

Starting from $2,000

Starting from $250

The higher your security deposit, the lower your monthly rent, so don’t be afraid to bargain! On the flip side, there are a few no-deposit one-rooms still available in Seoul (mainly in Sinchon), but monthly rent is much higher. It starts from $450.

In addition, don’t be confused by the following words for gosiwon, or by the fact that “tel” stands for hotel:

  • Goshitel
  • “One room” tel
  • “One room” living-tel

Even if you can’t come to Korea, you can go to Slay In Korea for the latest on the Korean hip hop scene. From restaurants owned by Korean hip hop artists to Korean hip hop bars and clubs, find out where to eat your favorite Korean food as well as where to meet new people and make new friends in the city that never sleeps.

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