Going to a foreign country can be intimidating and I know that the anticipation can lead to a lot of questions that are hard to find answers for. Here are some things that I wondered about before coming to Korea.
Depending on when and how long you are staying in Korea for will determine the clothes you will need to bring. I came to Korea in February and it was at freezing temperatures. If you don't already have a warm coat I would recommend you invest in one or wear multiple layers. The summer is humid so light wait material and shorts are a must especially if you get hot very quickly. Korea is a more conservative country so clothing is usually modest. If you don't want to get stares it it best to opt for higher necklines and shirts that cover your shoulders. But if you want to bring one of your favorite shirts but you think it wont be appropriate layering is your best friend. But don't worry too much, although this is the norm you can choose to wear whatever you want as long as you feel confident and comfortable.
For packing in general, I would recommend bringing less than what you think. Even if you aren't a big shopper you will end up spending money on clothes and maybe experimenting with different fashion styles. You might also buy skincare or makeup and disregard the products you brought with you from home. If you don't think you need it or you can find a better alternative in Korea don't bring it. I think it's better to have space in you bag coming here rather than having it stuffed and not having enough room to bring stuff home. (I have to buy an additional suitcase to fit everything I bought while being here.)
Apps to Download
Before coming to Korea there a few apps you should download before hand to make your life here a little more convenient.
KakaoTalk- Most people in Korea use KakaoTalk as their main form of communication. You can create group chats with classmates or find open chats to make friends with common interests. CIEE will require you to make an account so they can add you to a group with other CIEE participants. If you connect it with your Korean number you can get updates and messages directly to you Kakao.
NaverMaps- In my opinion I prefer NaverMaps compared to KakaoMaps. It will give you detailed routes and give accurate times for bus arrivals. It is simple to use and I can atest that I have not gotten lost while using it.
KakaoTaxi- If the buses and subways stop running or you're in an area where public transit it less reliable KakaoTaxi will be a life saver. It's simple to use and only has two steps to sign up. First connect it to you KakaoTalk, than send a verification code to your number. Now you can request a taxi at any time.
Shuttle- If you want delivery shuttle is one of the few apps that accepts foreign cards. Food choices may be limited compared to other apps, but you will be able to pay where other apps may not allow you.
Papago- Papago is Korea's Google Translate. I think it is more beneficial compared to the latter because it will give you explainations and definitions of the words, making it easier to learn and understand the words being used. Compared to Google Translate that only gives a translation and at times is not accurate.
If public transit is a worry for you like it was for me I am here to give you reassurance. Public Transit in Seoul is way more developed than in America. Most buses and trains are accurate and come frequently so even if you miss it, it will come again in about ten minutes. All you need is a T-Money card, which you can buy at any convenience store. Subways have refill stations and you can also refill your card at the convenience store as well. Make sure to scan you card as you get on and off and when you do you can check the balance on your card as well.
Even if you have a hard time and get lost, take the opportunity to explore your surroundings and Korea. You just might find a hidden gem.
I think it's important to have some background with Korean before coming here. No one is expecting you to be fluent, but I would advise you to go over the Korean alphabet, so reading will be easier, and going over basic phrases that you will be saying often.
When you are signing up for classes you can also take Korean language classes. IEE is the normal study abroad course that goes at a slower pace. KLI is the intensive course that meets more often and goes a little quicker. I personally only have experience with KLI and I think it is manageable and I have learned a lot. I'm not fluent, but I've learned about grammer and have a better understanding of the language which makes learning the language overall easier. I just need to improve my vocab.
If you already know some Korean you can also take level tests so you can bypass some of the basics.
As you learn Korean, make sure you use it. Use it when ordering food, talk to the taxi driver, and make new friends. That is what will improve you skills faster than any class could. (But also take the classes because grammer is important)
One of my biggest concerns was making friends. As an introverted and socially anxious person I knew I was going to have a long road ahead of me, but I found people that I really got along with and made so many memories with. I want to reassure you that everyone is in the same position and are also trying to make friends, just take the first step and say hi.
A great place to start would be the other CIEE participants. You will probably be seeing them the most often. They will be in SK Global with you, your classes, and CIEE events. You will meet so many people from different schools with different backgrounds.
During my time here all of my classes are online, but if you have in-person classes you will have opportunities to meet even more people who may be full-time students and even have opportunities to do group projects with them.
Just make sure not to compare yourself with anyone else's experience. You will find people you mesh well with and will make quality memories with.
I would recommend making a list of places outside of Seoul that you want to visit before coming to Korea. From there you can get the universities academic calander and find the times where you have a long weekend so you can enjoy your time there without worrying about classes. On NaverMaps you can favorite locations that you want to go to which makes it easier to find transportations, but also seeing it on the map makes it easier to plan where you should stay so you can best optimize your time there.
When going outside of Seoul there are multiple modes of transportation. You can take the KTX, take a short flight, or even a bus. They are still fairly cheap compared to prices in America, so it makes it easier to see all of Korea without too many worries.
Managing my time here as been one of the most difficult things I have had to figure out while being here. My advice is simple, don't overwhelm youself and take everyday as they come. I think planning too far ahead and seeing how busy I'm making myself caused me to feel burnout before I actually did anything. The best things happen when they are unplanned. Of course you will have some bucket list items but leave room to be by yourself, take a walk, and hang out with friends. Your time here in Korea is special so take the time to enjoy it.
I hope that some of my advice can be helpful. Just remember that everyone is in the same boat and don't know what they are doing. It will get easier as time goes on and you will find what works best for you. I hope you have a wonderful time as you study abroad in Korea with CIEE!