Student Experience | Living Abroad | Korea | Programs | Prospective Students | International Programs | CSU
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As of 08/09/2010
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Korea: Student Experience


Yonsei University is located in Seoul, South Korea. Within the proximity of the area there are four universities, including Yonsei. Seoul is an extremely active college town. It is also very crowded; in fact it is densely populated. Within the city there are many cafes, stores, theaters, restaurants and clubs.

Yonsei is one of the elite schools of Korea-the second best university behind Seoul National University. Yonsei has outstanding Business, Medical, Dental and Music programs in the nation.

Each class is held one day a week for three hours at a time.  Most classes are held twice a week. Usually a 2 hour lecture class as well as a one hour discussion period. There are many special lectures by Korean politicians; an example was the "Reunification of Korea" lecture that was done by a Korean National Assembly member.

Academics (Top)

Most classes at Yonsei are usually held twice a week or once a week, depending on the professor. Most professors are Korean natives who conduct their classes in English. Most are really good teachers, but some have a really thick accent. That is the down side because most of the courses for IP students are on the "same professor teaching the same course" basis. Therefore, if there's a required course that you have to take but don't like the professor whose teaching it, you're stuck. You have no other choice but to take that course from the professor who teaches it because there aren't two professors teaching the same course in the IP program at Yonsei. Some classes are quite tough and others are a breeze, but if you keep up with the pace, do all the assignments, and attend class regularly, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. As an IP student, unless you are already proficient at Korean, you are required to take a Korean language course. This is a 6-unit course, which is conducted everyday for two hours. Even though it's held every day, most students find it very enjoyable because everything that's learned in class is applicable outside of class. You usually have two professors: one for vocabulary and grammar and the other one is for reading. You are also permitted a certain number of absences. The maximum number of hours you can miss is about 32 hours, which means you can safely miss once a week. However, if you miss too many classes, it can be difficult to make up. The KLI (Korean Language institute) class moves at a pretty slow speed especially below the intermediate level so don't be afraid to ask to be moved to a higher level. The grade consists primarily of the midterm, final, and a very small amount on vocab tests. The Korean professors also rarely speak much English. However, if you attend class regularly and study hard, it becomes much easier throughout the semester.

The majority of the International Division professors studied and received their postgraduate degrees in the United States. Most of the classes are taught in a somewhat informal matter. They try to meet the needs of international students, but at the same time, they live in a society that has a tradition of teaching by making students memorize and sit in class without asking questions. Some native Korean students take classes and one will notice that they tend to be more respectful to the teacher and will not ask many questions. This should not discourage the student, since the professors are willing to answer all questions. One has to take into account that teachers and professors are highly respected in Korea, and being early is part of showing the professor respect.

Most classes are not difficult, although there will be teachers that have high expectations of students. Some teachers will try to maintain the same style of teaching they use with Korean students. These teachers will expect students to know some important points from books and lectures. Other teachers will assign research, which usually is done through the Internet. If there is any homework assigned most will be in the form of book readings, with some memorization and papers that are 2-3 pages long. I have found that homework varies from professor to professor, as at any university. Papers can be anywhere between 3 - 15 pages long in length. There aren't really any standard curriculums. It tends to vary on a class to class basis. Most classes also have a heavy emphasis on presentations.

Yonsei offers many classes related to East Asian History, Politics, Culture, and Art, which makes it an excellent place for any student who is interested in East Asia. Most classes will have a midterm and a final, but do not be surprised if a professor has higher or lower standards.

School Life and Atmosphere (Top)

Living on campus at Yonsei gives you many opportunities to meet locals and the convenience of being near a subway. There are many different clubs at Yonsei, which you may join, including the soccer club, the International Yonsei Club, and even the Eons American Football club.

It's good and necessary to get involved in some way socially but you should know that I.Y.C (International Yonsei Club) and Mentors clubs are primarily created by and for younger students.   If you feel isolated inside those clubs remember there are deep cultural differences that take getting used to. Remember the college atmosphere and maturity level in general is light years different from U.S. Campuses. I recommend keeping a lower profile of yourself until you are familiar with the social setting. Yonsei Global in particular is a great organization, the primary official organization underneath UIC. Yonsei Global has  many different cultural days, such as Thailand & Africa day where they have dress up, have food, and other forms of representing various countries.

The international division staff has several field trips to different places in Korea. The trips are usually cheap and many international students participate. I would recommend attending some of the very early events in order to get to know other international students.


There are many bars and restaurants located near Yonsei, especially on the side of the large road opposite the large church you see on the main street to Yonsei . Bars in this area are usually cheaper than those located near Ewha University, in Hongdae, and especially Kangnam. Kangnam, a higher class area, is more expensive and caters to an upper 20's age range with upgraded  fashion vs. what you see in Sinchon and Hongdae.

Hop-Soju bars are Korean drinking places that do usually require ordering a side dish, so take your pick There are pubs that serve traditional alcoholic drinks, like Soju and Macholy. Domestic beer is cheap, usually around 3000KRW while import beers are expensive, generally starting at 6000 KRW. Most bars in Sinchon, Hongdae, and Kangnam do not require you to order a side dish, AKA ahn-joo. You can find a variety of bars with all different themes and atmospheres. The underground bars usually have a particularly chill mood. There are club nights in Hongdae, usually the last Friday of the month, where for 20,000 KRW you get admission to a wide variety of clubs which is good for an all-nighter once in awhile.

Most Koreans will recognize that foreigners are not accustomed to Korean conventions, but it is a good way to participate with the rest of society. Bars are open until sunrise and it is common to see people taking the subway or taking a taxi around this time. Yonsei University is a very safe place thus one can walk down the street at 3:00 am without being approached or mugged. Be aware that wherever you are on the subway, it will shut down at midnight. For example, if you live forty minutes away from your current stop, board the train by the very latest, 11:20. Also, cabs, which during daytime hours start at 1900 KRW start charging a higher rate after midnight. Even so, they are fairly inexpensive. You should be warned that it is difficult coming back from Hongdae late at night by taxi because they don't want to take you such a short distance, just keep asking taxi's and eventually you'll find someone to take you. Sinchon (the district where Yonsei is located near) is very safe but it is still recommended not to walk around by yourself at night as there was a recent incident where two girls were kidnapped, although those incidents are very rare.

When going to a restaurant you will most likely be treated with utmost respect, and it is not unusual to get "service," which is other things besides what you order. This is done to guarantee a repeat customer. Always show appreciation for this kindness.

Postal Service (Top)

The Korean Post Office is cheap and very efficient, thus students can send packages back home at low rates, especially sending by boat. Besides what is the hurry, you will be in Korea for 11 months.


Yonsei University has an International dorm where IP students stay, however space is limited because of student demand. For students who favor convenience over privacy, I recommend living in the dorm because the library, bookstore, classrooms, gymnasium, cafeteria, and most of the school's facilities are within walking distance. In the dorms, students share a room with another international student. All rooms are the same size. They come with a bed, a desk, a personal closet and a couple of shelves. Every room has LAN, a network system that lets all students have fast Internet access. There are also different electric switches for students that bring a laptop, or a small radio. There is an air-conditioner, and a heater, and both work excellently during the hot summers and cold winters. Although it is very convenient, be warned that the dorm rooms are very small. There is also free laundry at the dorm, but there aren't very many machines so sometimes you have to do your laundry at very odd hours of the night. And it's usually a good idea to keep an eye on your belongings.

The dormitory building has five floors, the first floor is the lobby, and where the computer room is located. The second and third and part of the fourth floors are for women only, and the other half of the fourth and fifth floor are for men. The international division tries to apply the rules it has in other dormitories to the international dormitory, which is not always so successful. Dorm life can be really fun, however it can also be stressful sometimes because with all the other students around, it's hard to find your own space.

There was a curfew, but these days there is no set time as to when students are allowed to return to dormitories. Mainly because there has been a new finger print system in the dormitories that reads the index finger print of those living in the dorms. Every floor is divided into two halls, and each hall has a bathroom. In every bathroom, there are several sinks that are supplied with soap. There are several toilets as well. Showers are located within the bathroom but in their own separate rooms. Each shower has a curtain, and up to five people can be showering. There is cold and hot water. There is a lounge in every hall that has a television and a refrigerator and a water filtration system that gives hot and cold water.

There is no cooking allowed in the dormitories, but one can usually buy instant foods and make them in the dorms. It is highly recommended to eat them in the television rooms. Living in Korea one realizes that groceries are expensive and that eating in cheap restaurants or the school cafeteria beats any home cooking or instant food.

For students who favor privacy, a "Boarding House" (Hasuk) is another alternative - the monthly fee usually runs around $400 US. It's quite comfortable living in a boarding house because you get to have your own room, and at most boarding houses, food is provided, which is great if you're looking forward to saving a couple bucks. Usually there is a communal bathroom. The down side to most boarding houses is that they only have washing machines, no dryers. Most Koreans prefer hanging their clothes, they don't really use the drying machine much in this country. Most boarding houses don't provide Internet access, but there's no problem connecting it; the fee is an extra $20 monthly. The Internet speed in Korea is unbelievable, and from what I've heard, Korea is among the countries with the fastest online connection in the world! So far I haven't used anything that's slower than the DSL that we have back home in the U.S. There are different types of boarding houses and the price ranges are in accordance to the facilities provided. Boarding houses are everywhere around the school's district, but most of the signs are in Korean, so if you don't speak Korean or don't have anyone to help you look for these places, you should come here at least 2 weeks in advance of the orientation date so that the staff can help you arrange something. Make sure your landlady is friendly. It can make your stay far more pleasant if so.

There are two other options as well. You can stay in a "livingtel" which is a tiny room that can either come with or without a bathroom. These rooms are incredibly small though. Usually these are inhabited by local Koreans who live too far to commute. I believe it's about 550,000 won for a room with a bathroom. About 400,000 won without. They usually come equipped with a desk, a closet, a television, and a small refrigerator. If you can, try to get a room in a boarding house (mentioned above) it is way more bang for your buck. Another option is getting an apartment but that requires that you know how to speak Korean well or know someone else who does. Don't be fooled by listings with low rent. Usually that means there is a high deposit. It usually works vice versa too meaning if there is a higher monthly rent, then there is usually a lower deposit.

Climate (Top)

Korea has four distinct seasons, which make it convenient for many people. In the fall, hiking trips are the best because the weather is cooler and the leaves begin to change colors making the landscape beautiful. The fall is the shortest season in Korea. In the winter it snows, and many ski resorts open up. The closest one to Seoul is about an hour away. In spring the weather begins to warm up again, which enables you to travel to any place you wish. Late spring is the time when campsites and beaches begin to open. Summer is hot and it rains a lot, thus traveling is somewhat inconvenient but one can always find something to do. The summer is also very humid and the hot weather usually attracts a lot of mosquitos. If you are into eating raw fish, the best time to do so is in the fall, winter or early spring. During the summer, fish is susceptible to contamination.

Telephones (Top)

By studying and living in South Korea, you will quickly realize that most people use cellular phones, or "hand phones." They are cheap and there are various services offered. You can buy a used hand phone for 20 dollars, and pay a $20-30 for monthly service. There are hand phones that you pay for a monthly service charge and those that you add money to, which gives you a certain amount of minutes. Most hand phones receive phone calls at no charge, and some can receive international calls. Public telephones are not common anymore, and it is rare to find coin-operated telephones. If you wish to use public phones, buying a phone card, specifically for public phone use, would come in handy. You should try to make a Korean friend to take with you to get a cell phone otherwise they may try to rip you off. It is usually a better deal to get a contract because adding minutes to your phone is really expensive.

Transportation (Top)

Seoul is a very crowded city with not just people, but cars as well. The streets are always stacked with buses, taxis, and cars that drive around looking for parking spaces. Most students walk to school but whenever there's the need to commute, or travel to any places around town, the subway is most popular. Seoul has a state of the art railway system with eight different tracks running all over the city from 5:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. Wherever you are, subways close at midnight. Meaning if you have a forty minute ride to get home, get on the train by the very latest 11:20. Also, cabs start charging a higher rate after midnight. Even so, they are fairly inexpensive. Although you should be warned that sometimes cabs are weary of picking you up if you have a very short distance to go.

Foreigners usually have no problem finding their way around town by using the subway because along every subway station, maps of the subway can be found - all have English translations. The subway fares are fairly cheap comparing to our Bart transportation fee at home in San Francisco. The cost varies depending on the destination; however, the normal fee is only around $1 US. Usually students don't have much trouble with traveling around town because the Yonsei staff provides them with a lot of traveling information and advise at orientation.

Korea's public transportation systems work incredibly well. The buses are also very simple to use. Your Yonsei ID card also serves as a transportation card. At the subway station you can add money to your ID card in order to use it to pay for the subway and buses. You can either use the machines provided or if you can't figure it out, you can go to the info desk.

Traveling (Top)

Traveling throughout South Korea can be cheap or expensive, depending on where you want to go. There are trains and express busses that can take you just about anywhere. It's best to know a little Korean if you travel. By the time you are done with the first semester in Yonsei you will be able to travel by yourself and be able to go anywhere you wish.

There are many places to go sightseeing within Seoul. You can also take short, one-day trips around Seoul and see lots of amazing places. The Han River is 15 minutes away from Sinchon Station. Most of the theme parks are located in Seoul and can be reached through the Subway. Museums and palaces are mostly located in Downtown. The cities outside Seoul make great places to travel: Ilsan, Suwon, and Incheon.

Food and Beverage Expenditures (Top)

Food is great here. It's cheap and it's quite tasty; some students here tend to have the urge to eat a little more because of that. Seoul is a globalized city where you can find many Indian, Mexican, Italian, and Chinese restaurants, and there's always McDonald's, of course, along with KFC, TGI Friday's and more... The hamburgers and fries that people have here taste exactly the same as the hamburgers and the fries at home, and the food prices for those kinds of restaurants are comparable to ours.

The biggest expenses a student can expect to incur are for food and drinks, unless you do a lot of extracurricular social drinking and/or traveling already. Yonsei University's campus has two or three student cafeterias on campus. A student can expect to pay on average for a cafeteria meal around 2,000 to 3,000 Won, which is roughly about US $1.50 to $3.00 per meal. The quality of the food is what you can expect from a student cafeteria. However, if you decide to venture out into Sinchon where all the restaurants and "HOFS" (small like coffee houses and pubs that offer a limited food menu and drinks) are located, you can expect to pay around 3,500 to 20,00 Won, or about US $3.00 to $17.00 per meal. The food is much better but somewhat more expensive depending on where you go for a meal. International cuisine tends to be more expensive, however the quality and authenticity can be questionable.

If your primary concern is adhering to a tight budget, then eating at a HOF is cheaper than most restaurants. Cold beverages such as Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, Chilsun Cider (Sprite), and other various drinks are quite cheap in comparison. A person can expect to pay about 450 to 500 Won for a small can of soda pop or flavored water. There are many beverage vending machines available inside and outside of the classrooms. A cup of coffee inside a HOF will cost you 4,500 Won or US $3.50, which is quite expensive, but you get free refills. South Korea also offers many fast food chain restaurants. For example, a student can eat chicken at Popeye's or Kentucky Fried Chicken for a modest Won 3,400 to 6,000, or US $2.60 to $4.60. There are two popular and familiar cheeseburger fast food restaurants in Korea: McDonalds and Burger King. You can expect to pay roughly the same as you would as the previously mentioned for a combination meal complemented by free refills.

Shopping (Top)

You may already know that Seoul is among the most expensive cities in the world to shop in. It's true, especially when it comes to brand name clothes, shoes, accessories or electronic devices, so don't even think about going on a shopping spree when you get here. But thank goodness there are many different kinds of stores around the Yonsei area. Besides the huge department stores where most brand name (expensive) "high quality" stuff gets sold, it's not impossible to find stores around Yonsei that sell things which are more affordable. Watch out for cheap quality goods though. Also, you are able to haggle down most prices as they are usually trying to sell you things at the most expensive price possible.

Discrimination (Top)

Korea is a homogenous society that has a history of being colonized. In addition, their society is based on a Confucius ideology. This can sometimes be a cause of discrimination, since one is not part of their society and one is not "one of them." But don't worry, Koreans will usually be respectful and even be helpful if you are in need of help.

Recently (2002) there has been controversy arising from the high number of educated people. Most people in Korea do not want to work in agriculture or in factories. Thus, most companies either hire illegal workers or import-contracted workers from other countries. There are illegal workers in Korea from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India, and therefore, there is a stereotype that these people are low class. They tend not to look favorably at African people, simply because they are darker. However, this is the general attitude they have with anyone who has dark skin. Recently (in 2002), there has been a string of bank robberies by Peruvian people who have migrated illegally to Korea. Thus, some Koreans might have negative feelings towards people from South America. Since Korea is a homogenous society, people tend to make generalizations of other groups of people. This can be a great opportunity to teach people about the diversity of the world and that not everything one believes to be true is true.

Koreans tend to be very nationalistic because of their recent past, thus they tend not to like the U.S.'s military presence. There have been several instances where US soldiers have murdered, raped and committed crimes against Koreans, thus sometimes people will be very unfriendly towards Americans. This mostly occurs when the U.S. military has committed some crime and it has made it into the news. Usually, Koreans are not hostile towards any foreigner, but one may receive looks. Hostility only arises at bars when people are drunk and one instigates an argument. Sometimes it is just better to be with people you already know.

If you date a Korean some people might frown upon it, or give you looks. Usually, Korean men have bad attitudes about foreigners dating Korean women. Sometimes they will approach and ask questions about how long you have known each other and how long have you been dating. Some Koreans are very conservative when it comes to dating and thus do not like to see Koreans dating others. These types of discrimination are extreme cases, most Koreans will always be surprised to meet a foreigner who speaks Korean, or is interested in their culture. For them, it is an honor to have someone study their culture, so please understand that we are visitors of their country. They respect the elderly and expect all younger people to show respect to those older than themselves.

However some of us haven’t noticed any sort of outright discrimination. If anything, most people are friendlier to you if you are a foreigner. Oftentimes, people will strike up conversations with you to practice their English skills. And depending on how small of a town you visit, sometimes they ask to take a picture with you. Seoul is pretty international, so you are not very likely to get harassed. They are used to seeing foreigners. There are tons of students studying abroad and English teachers throughout Korea. Although I would be weary of overfriendly older gentlemen. Play each situation out by ear.

Books (Top)

Yonsei University's bookstore is located near the student union. As you can imagine, most books are in Hangul (Korean language). A very small section is reserved for Western English books. A student can find several business-related books on Management, Economics, Marketing, and Statistics for Business. Other books in English are available at a popular bookstore called Kyobo Bookstore. This large and crowded bookstore has one location approximately 20 minutes by subway from Sinchon or Yonsei University. The Kyobo Bookstore offers many more Western English books than Yonsei's bookstore.

The cost of books is quite noticeably cheaper in Korea. It is difficult to estimate what books may cost because they all differ in price. Therefore, the following is not a definitive itemization, but more of an approximation of what a student can expect for book expenditures on a semester basis. The Korean Language classes require about 3 textbooks that cost about 25,000 to 30,000 Won, or US $19.00 to $23.00. Business students can expect to pay somewhere around 89,000 Won for 3 or 4 small to big size textbooks, or US $68.50. This is much cheaper than purchasing books in the USA. Sometimes a professor may ask his or her students to purchase supplementary reading materials that can cost around 5,000 to 10,000 Won, or US $3.80 to $7.70.