Seoul’s Subway System

I was going to write a post about culture shock in Korea so far, but I realized I could write an entire piece or more on Seoul’s subway system. Growing up outside of Philadelphia and moving to the city for college was definitely a change for me and just getting used to using public transportation was new and cool for me. However, I think I’ll burst into tears the moment I step onto a Septa subway, bus, or trolley again. Not necessarily tears of happiness either, although we could credit this to Seoul’s subway system being much much newer. Seoul’s subway is a totally new world not only in because of its sheer size, but also due to its design and functionality. Especially as an engineering major, I was fascinated to see how well it was made and how everyone here adheres to the unspoken rules while using it. It’s really an amazing subway culture and I am still fascinated by it every time I ride. Here is what makes the subway here so different from Philadelphia’s:

1. Size

Philadelphia has 2 subway lines that run north to south/east to west and vice versa; Seoul has 22 lines. You could say I was properly mind-blown when I saw the map for the first time. You could truly go anywhere you wanted within the city limits and that’s saying something because Seoul is nearly twice as large as Philadelphia.

A map of Seoul’s subway system (

2. Noise Level

I know you’re thinking about the noise level of the occupants of the subway car, but I’m talking noise level in more than one way. I was so amazed that the subway itself was incredibly smooth, smoother than an Amtrak train, and the noise of the subway system is so quiet that I stopped noticing it a few rides in. Also, it’s considered a little rude to make noise here on the subway so everyone keeps to themselves and doesn’t pay anyone else much attention.

my first subway ride!

3. Designated Seating

There are assigned yellow seating for the elderly and pink seating for those who are pregnant. There are also large spaces for people with bikes or with luggage.

4. Cleanliness

Korean subways are so clean that when I went on my first subway ride and went down into the subway station, I noted how it felt like I was in a nice airport! The stations are huge and typically have around10 Exits. Despite this they are always well upkept. The subways and platforms are also kept very clean. In the subway cars themselves there are cleaning staff that walk from car to car with brooms, which is why there’s literally never anything on the ground.

5. Design and Timeliness

There are too things about the subways’ functionality and design worth mentioning, but I will share those that stood out the most to me. In the actual subway there are constant announcements and indicators for stops or transfers and they are displayed visually through electronic boards, neon lights, or through the speaker system. In the subway itself there are also signs everywhere, every 10 meters or so, indicating the correct directions, which are often in Korean, English, and Chinese or Japanese. Additionally, there is a substantial divider between the subway and the platform in all stations, so there is no physical way people or belongings could fall in the subway tracks. The doors of the dividers open automatically only when a subway train has fully stopped. There are also additional railings and holders all over the subway car for standing support. There are also elevators in most subways.

Additionally the subway and buses, run on an exact schedule. The subway will come the same minute it is indicated to come on online navigation systems or the subway schedules posted on the walls and columns. It is always on time. This is arguably my favorite thing about the Korean subway.

6. The T-money Card

The T-money card is equivalent to a Septa card , except you scan every time you enter a subway station and whenever you leave. If you scan both times there will be a discount on your subway fare and every time you scan your card the small screen on the revolver will show you how much you were charged and your remaining balance, which is incredibly convenient for knowing when to reload your card. Additionally, you can reload your card at nearly any convenience store or physically in the subway using one of the machines (except the machines only accept cash, I believe). People who have a Korean debit card can also often use the card as a T-money card as well.

The revolver and the T-money balance screen, as well as the reloading machines in the subway stations.

A Message from the Office of Global Engagement:

The safety and security of Drexel students is a priority for the University. As part of the efforts to support Drexel students that are studying abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Global Engagement has conducted a rigorous review of programming and provided additional support to participating students with customized pre-departure orientations and regular check-ins during the required self-isolation period and the term.

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