Episode 1: Homeless in Korea

Because visiting Korea has always been my life-long dream, I expected nothing but smooth sailing after receiving my official acceptance letter from Seoul National University. To my disappointment and disbelief, I was completely wrong. Obstacles and problems kept arising one after the next: I couldn’t register for any of my courses since they all filled up instantly, and it took me great time and effort to take care of the required paperwork to secure my spot for housing at the dormitory while co-oping in New York. Once I thought I was good to go, SNU notified me that my dorm spot was cancelled because I never sent in my paperwork — 3 days before I boarded my plane to Seoul.

SNU claimed they never received my email with my required paperwork before the deadline, and so my dorm spot was cancelled automatically and given to another student on the waiting list. This was not my fault nor SNU’s, but pure bad luck. Tip: When sending emails to SNU with important attachments, do not use your DrexelOne email. Use the SNU webmail provided to you, and follow up to see if your documents were received.

So, it occurred to me that I would arrive in Seoul without a long-term housing plan. Basically, I was going to be homeless in a completely foreign country, with no one to help me. Fortunately, a couple of people from the SNU Buddy Program pointed me to Ziptoss.

Ziptoss is a non-profit SNU student-run service that helps SNU students find off-campus housing. With their help, I was able to find a place to stay for the whole semester. If you end up in the same situation as me, was not picked for the dorms or, just prefer to live off-campus, Ziptoss can help you!

They showed me a couple of studio-style apartments (in Korea, they’re called officetels) around SNU Station subway, the first couple ones not to my liking. They were small, old, and seemed a bit dirty. The fourth and final one I was shown, was… perfect. I fell in love with the space as soon as I walked in. Spacious, clean, quiet, and it looked much newer than the others. Pricing was in my budget (680,000 won per month excluding utilities, that’s about $546 a month), and it was only a 7-10 minute walk to SNU Station and the buses/shuttles that would take me to the actual SNU campus. It was perfect. I signed the contract with the help of the Ziptoss agent (her English was limited but just good enough for me to understand the terms and conditions; however my level of Korean is above 203 so it might be more difficult for those who aren’t as fluent — ask for the Ziptoss guy who’s most fluent in English if you need). There was a deposit of 700,000 won refundable at the end of my stay, and the first month’s rent was due by move in 2 days later. I chose to pay the whole 4 months amount by move in, but this is up to you or the flexibility of the landlord.

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My studio apartment building from the outside – “29 Officetel”

You’re probably very curious about what my place looks like, huh? I hope so! Let me show you some shots of the space. At first it was very plain and empty, but within 2 weeks of time, I’ve bought everything I’d possibly need and made this place my new home.

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A sliding door separates the bedroom from the kitchenette, washer machine and bathroom. Very Korean!

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View from the sliding door.

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View from the bed. Note the included air conditioner, microwave, refrigerator, desk, chair, and my favorite — the TV

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The desk is connected to a large closet shelf.

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The desk is quite spacious, perfect for studying and doing homework.

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The closet is as tall as the ceiling and has more than enough space for all of my clothes. I packed light, thanks to my mom’s advice! Thanks Mom.

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This is the thermostat to control the floor heating, “Nakbang.” In Korea, most of the floors in homes have a heating system installed where the heat radiates from the floor.

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View of the kitchenette and washer machine — no dryer machine. Koreans don’t use dryer machines, supposedly…

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View of the bathroom, located directly across from the kitchenette. There is a door to close. Culture Shock #1: Bathrooms in Korea do not have a separating shower/tub. There is a mechanism on the sink that switches the water to the shower head, and you shower by standing right on the same floor with the toilet and sink. Shower flip flops are thus highly recommended!

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This is the doorway area right when you walk in — I wanted to highlight this area to show the importance of leaving your shoes at the door before entering the household in Korea. Home slippers can be used to walk around, or if your floor is clean enough, go barefoot!

If you ever need to go shopping for dorm/apartment home goods and are on a budget, go to Daiso. It’s a Japanese franchise in Korea that sells everything you can possibly need, for the cheapest prices you’ll ever find. It’s kind of like Korea’s dollar store, the only difference is that the items are much better quality and super cute!

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My Daiso haul! The total cost was about $40 for everything seen here.

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Seat pillow and hangers.

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Cutlery, dishware and stuff for the kitchen.

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Bathroom necessities!

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I seriously love watching Korean TV. Any Running Man fans? 🙂

Although due to an unfortunate twist in fate I did not get to live in the dorms (which are considerably much cheaper than living off-campus), I honestly have come to love my officetel. I feel extremely comfortable and happy in my own space without having to worry about being considerate to roommates, and I love the SNU Station area where I’m 5 minutes away to cool coffee shops, trendy restaurants, exciting shopping and delicious street food. I’ve come to accept that maybe everything does happen for a reason, and although I had to deal with an incredible amount of stress about housing in Korea, I’m glad everything turned out the way it did. In retrospective, I wouldn’t want it any other way. This is home now, and I am truly happy to call it so.

Thanks for reading Episode 1! If you had any further questions about off-campus housing or shopping for home goods in Seoul, I’d be happy to answer them in more detail. Send me an email at annaaanguyen@gmail.com. See you back for Episode 2!