Settling in and exploring Seoul…
Arriving in the early morning of late February, the weather was -3 degrees, and only went up to a high of 5 degrees that day. A tropical kid like me was no match for facing such weather with only an inner layer and a hoodie. Thankfully, I was able to grab a taxi from Seoul Station to my goshiwon accomodation opposite Hanyang University.
For 2023’s spring exchange program, on-campus dormitories were not offered by Hanyang University. As a result, 3 of us who were exchanged to HYU stayed in goshiwons that we found through Goshipages. My goshiwon was called Simple House and fortunately for me, it was situated right opposite HYU which meant it took less than 5 minutes for me to walk to the main gate of the campus. I was particularly lucky to have a really nice landlady who supplied the fridge in the communal kitchen with rice and many types of 반찬 (banchan – Korean side dishes that are often served with the main course) that we could help ourselves with for free. Often, just eating the rice with different 반찬 substituted as a hearty and full meal which has helped me save money instead of buying food from outside (on average, a meal in Korea can cost anywhere from 6000 won – 11000 won). My goshiwon also had free communal washing machines and a dryer which made doing laundry very convenient.
Exploring my surroundings
As an avid runner, one of my favourite activites to do while abroad is to go for a run. I find that running is an effective and enjoyable way to explore and familiarise myself with the local area. Hence, within the first 2 days of arriving in Seoul, I found a beautiful path, about 5 mins from my goshiwon, that ran along Hanggang River. This has been my go-to running route thus far.
South Korea’s population are very conscious of their health, which is why you will also see many elderly using the many public exercise stations that are situated along the cycling path by the river.
Start of school
Finally the first day of classes have arrived. Walking into Hanyang University’s campus felt pretty surreal and exciting.
The university’s campus is situated on a hilly area which meant walking to some of the buildings could take quite an effort. For me, walking to my classes that were in the IT/BT building took the longest time since that building was at the other end of the campus. This serves as a reminder that when planning and enrolling in courses, avoid taking back-to- back classes in order to give yourself enough time to move between different class locations. Other than that, it was a new and interesting experience moving through the campus grounds as a university student in Korea.
Affordable food in school
Hanyang University’s main cafeteria is located on the 3rd floor of the Hanyang Plaza building. There are several kiosk machines that you can order a food ticket from. Some of the machines accept cash and card, while some only accept card (yes, Youtrip and Wise cards both work). Everyday, there are 3 options for lunch menu: 양식 (yangsik – Western food) which is usually a meat cutlet, 한식 (hansik – Korean food) which is usually some type of 비빔밥 (bibimbap – mixed rice) , or 중석(jungseok) which is mainly stew/soup in a hotpot. The price of food ranges from 3600 won to 3900 won which is really affordable. On weekdays, I often eat lunch and dinner at the cafeteria to save money. There are also other food options in school such as the cafeterias in other buildings. However, these are slightly more expensive.
First 찜질방 (Jjimjilbang) experience
This was one of my bucket list activities during the exchange and I am glad I managed to fulfill it. Since the weather was nice and cold, I wanted to visit a 찜질방 to relax in the sauna. The place that I went to is called 골드로즈사우나 (Gold Rose Sauna) located in Gangnam. The entrance fee was 12000 won. I also ordered 식혜 (sikhye) which is a traditional drink that is a must-try at a 찜질방.
In 찜질방s, there are areas that are male and female segregated and this is where it might be a bit of a culture shock to see people completely naked in the baths. This local Korean culture in 찜질방s. In order to be polite and appropriate, do read up on guides on about 찜질방 etiquettes before visiting one!
I mainly spent my time at the 한증막 (hanjeungmak). This area, which is not gender segregated, houses all the different sauna rooms at various temperatures ranging form 20 degrees all the way to 80 degrees!
I started off in the 60 degrees sauna room which was a good warm up for my body.
Eventually, I found my way over to the hottest sauna available – the fire dome. With temperatures of about 80 degrees, people would come in and sweat it out for 15 minute. Within 3 minutes of entering the dome, I was already covered in more sweat than I was when I went running. After the 15 minutes was up, I moved over to the -14 degrees cold room. Since my body was so warm coming out of the fire dome, the cold room felt like a pleasant air-conditioned room. I repeated this process a few more times just to enjoy the sauna experience.
In short, it was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in my life. I would definitely be visiting a 찜질방 again.
Bukchon Hanok Village
On one of my free Tuesdays, I visited Bukchon Hanok Village located near Anguk Station. This is one of the places in Seoul where the traditional Hanok houses still remained. Over here, you could rent a hanbok to walk around the streets of Bukchon and take pictures with the hanok houses. If you visit Bukchon Hanok Village, do look out for the main street that gives the best view of the houses.
The unique architecture of the hanok houses was something I thoroughly enjoyed photographing when I was there.
There is no cost to enter Bukchon Hanok Village so I highly recommend stopping by to visit this place. However, it should be noted that it is still a residential area so it would be polite to keep the volume down when you visit!
Seoul Fashion Week 2023
Although I am not one to keep up with fashion trends, I was pleased to find out that iconic Seoul Fashion Week was being held at Dongdaemun History and Culture Park in March.
At Seoul Fashion Week, any person could come dressed in their best high fashion outfit and pose along pathways of the park and anyone (professional fashion photographers, hobbyist photographers or passer-bys) could take photos of them freely.
The entire event was a pleasant culture shock to me. I too, joined in the fun and took some photos of the amazing fashion there.
Many parents even dressed up their kids and brought them there to model as well. In Korea, fashion starts young it seems.
There was also a blue carpet area where many celebrities entered to join and watch the ticketed catwalk fashion shows. Amusingly enough, I only found out who they were after checking social media since I could only see them from a distance.
These have been the highlights of my first month in Seoul. Looking forward to more!