After about a month here, I feel like I am somewhat qualified to write about what I would call ‘game changers’ which are basically things that I bought or found that immediately improved or made life easier here. Some are frivolous, some are more important, but all of them helped me with establishing a routine and feeling more comfortable while abroad.
First of all: Cosmetics. Korean cosmetics are world renowned, but I’m no expert and skincare is so personal, so I’m going to talk about a few small things that changed things for me. I bought most of these things at Olive Young, a popular chain. The first thing is masks. Most people here buy single use surgical masks (I secretly think this helps with good skin, you are never wearing a dirty mask). I, for whatever reason, managed to only bring one mask with me and guess what? I’m allergic to something in surgical masks here (not in the USA though, but I’m not sure what the difference is). So this is an important lesson- make sure to look at ingredient lists and test products before use, especially in a foreign country where standards will be different. The next is oil control papers! Mine cost me about 3,000 Korean Won, and I’m not even halfway through, despite using them frequently. The last little thing is mints! I bought some early on, even though I never eat mints in America. However, coffee and general cafe drink culture here is crazy, and I often find myself reaching for one after studying for hours at a cafe.
Speaking of studying, that brings me, in a round-about-way to my next section: Apps/technology. For studying, especially if the semester is online, it is important to have a VPN on your phone and/or computer, since Seoul has a lot of wifi, but it is almost always unsecured. Another app is Catch or (ヲㅐㅊ이), which allows access to a study cafe in the Vertigo building (right near Yonsei, downtown Sinchon). It’s super helpful this semester because the CIEE class is in the Vertigo building, but even if the class moves, this place is a super idyllic place to study from noon to 22:00, and you even get a free drink. The app is a bit intimidating because it's in Korean, but it's not that hard to fill out with the help of the next app I’ll recommend: Papago. Papago is an amazing translation app that translates what you write into it, images, speaking into it, and conversations. KakaoTalk is used by everyone in Korea, and you can download it in America before your trip. KakaoTaxi is the same company, and is useful for summoning taxis after midnight when the bus system stops. Taxis are also MUCH cheaper here than in America. Also useful for getting home is NaverMaps, which, as you might expect, is a maps app. Google maps doesn’t work here very well, but it is worth still keeping on your phone to search for food places. Kakao also has a maps app (KakaoMaps), but Naver has bus and subway stops in English, whereas Kakao stays in Korean. Shuttle is also in English, and is a food delivery app that is essential during quarantine, and nice after too. Delivery fees are usually low, but some places are even free, and the most expensive I’ve ever seen is 6,000 KRW which is about 5$ USD.
For the dorm, I highly recommend a stop at Daiso during your first week. A bathmat and a trash can highly improved my enjoyment of dorm life. Also, because of the aforementioned free wifi and constant beautiful vistas, you’ll be using your phone a lot, so bring/buy a portable charger!
As for more miscellaneous things to know, one is that it's always nice to have cash, as you’ll sometimes get discounts, and it's easier to refill your T-money card (which can happen at any convenience store). Two, if you're visiting a place like Lotte World, sometimes they’ll have discounts for foreigners, so keep an eye out. Three, buy a converter early on! Fourth, if you’re having trouble figuring out prices, 1$ is about equal to 1,000 KRW. This gets less accurate as the price goes up (100,000 KRW is about $85), but generally things are so cheap here the 1:1,000 conversion is good enough. Fifth, don’t be shy to reach out to your Seoulmates. They are often just as eager as you are to make friends, and often have insider’s advice on how to book hotels, meet people, or good places to visit!