The Seoul Diaries: Safety in Korea

In this episode of the Seoul Diaries, I will go into being safe in Korea.

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Can you tell that I love The Office yet?

When I first told my parents that I wanted to study abroad, they were obviously concerned (as any parent would be) about my safety abroad and what measures would be in place for me to live safely in South Korea. So, let’s begin!

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*Dwight = Faith* Haha

My Northern Mentality

To start, I will preface this by stating: I was raised in the Northern part of America. This has heavily impacted the way I see the world and conduct myself in any foreign environments. Especially, as a woman traveling abroad. I was taught to always be very aware of my surroundings and where I am at all times. I have heard my fair share of tourist/exchange student horror stories during my time here and choose to always keep my head on a swivel when I am traveling anywhere. This can sometimes led to me being overly suspicious and cautious of everything, but I rather be like that then naive.

Okay, so now that I got that out of the way….

Nightlife/Safety Concerns

After being in Korea for more than half a year, I have to say that the nightlife here is always where the fun is during the week/weekend. From afterparties and fun dinner meetings to just enjoying the various nightlife activities with your friends – Seoul comes to life at night. With that being said, other hidden aspects of Korea come out as well.

**Disclaimer: I just want to say again that these are summaries of stories that I have heard from other students or from my own experiences. This doesn’t represent South Korea as a whole. This post is just here to bring attention to an aspect of studying abroad that exchange students should keep in mind while being abroad. When others are asked about Korea and safety, many tend to say something along the lines of “Korea is super safe compared to where I’m from”. **

  • Hongdae/Itaewon in the Late Hours – Although I never stay out that long, some of my other exchange friends have told me that they have sometimes felt extremely uncomfortable walking down Hongdae’s streets late at night because they were cat-called, hit-on, followed, or approached by men (both Korean and foreign). Many of them have smoothly steered themselves out of these situations and put a distance between themselves and those people, but always be alert in environments with heavy drinking, dark streets, etc. Not everyone has your best interests at heart.
  • Walking Home at Night (1am or after) – Now, I am not one to take walks late at night if I can avoid them, but many students say that they feel perfectly safe walking home late at night in Korea. I would NEVER do this in America, but – while in Korea – I have walked home very late at night a couple of times and felt safe (minus this one time where I was certain that a car was following me home at 3am, but I made sure to lose them before arriving there). When my parents briefly visited in the winter, they were shocked to see women in their late 20s walk into dark alleyways with their earphones on and looking at their phones. I think it’s just that I have watched way too many crime/psychological thriller K-dramas so I am always on high alert at night and avoid dimly lit streets out of habit. And I always leave one headphone out of my ear to hear what’s around me. Just in case.

I kind of wish that my campus had what Ole Miss has: a campus police escort and blue light emergency posts in case you ever feel unsafe walking home. However, I feel that in comparison to America, Korea is definitely 5x safer so I guess there isn’t really a need for these things here then…?

IDK

Religious People/Strangers

Lastly, although I can count the number of times that I have been approached on the streets, subway, or on-campus by religious people or groups on one of my hands, it is still an aspect that you have to be careful with. Some of the groups are truly genuine and just want to recruit more international students to their groups, but others are more extreme or don’t have the best intentions.

Quick Storytime: When I was still adjusting to life in Korea, I was approached by the same 아저씨 (older man) on the subway twice (Blue Line for reference; you might run into him too!). Both times, he bee-lined straight for me. He only seemed to approach other foreigners in the area around me which was… interesting…

Cultural Note: Koreans aren’t really used to small talk like how we do it in the US. I can’t just go up to a random girl on the street and compliment her on her shirt because she will give me a weird look and hastily walk away. Same goes for meeting/approaching neighbors or other people in public, etc. Because of this, I have gotten used to people minding their own business, being in their own bubbles, and leaving me alone (for the most part).

Anyways, he introduced himself to me in English. Being completely thrown off from this, I naturally responded in Korean (typical me) and he started asking me the usual questions: Where are you from? Are you an exchange student? How long have you been in Korea? Where do you study? I answered with very generic information and he responded by saying that he studied for his undergraduate in America, gave me his religious pamphlet and ginger candy, and walked off to the next foreigner nearby. I think that the second time he did this, he must have forgotten that he had already talked to me and we had the exact same conversation as before.

While on the topic of being approached by random strangers in public, I would advise you to give the least amount of information about yourself and be as vague as possible. Once I went to a cafe by myself, and this older lady randomly come up to me and introduced herself. This ended up turning into her talking to me for 2 hours (and even face-timing her sister living in Thailand and introducing me to her) while I was trying to do my homework. [This was seriously the oddest thing to ever happen to me here…]

I have learned from this now, but past-me was too nice and didn’t know how to say “No” or “I’m trying to work so please leave me alone”. What her true intentions where, I had no idea, but when she asked me for my phone number, I felt pressured and gave it to her (knowing that it would be changed the next month). I promptly blocked her anyways when she left. When I told my family members what happened, they all gave me the same response: Faith, why didn’t you just leave the cafe or tell her to stop bothering you? Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t do that at the time, but I felt that I handled the situation to the best of my ability at the time and did what I could to make sure that I felt safe. It seems that older people always want to talk to me when I am alone…. ;-; Aigoo.

Tips

  1. Always be vigilant and aware of your surroundings
  2. Know where your local police station is (the police number in Korea is 112 not 991; 119 is for emergencies and ambulances)
  3. Ask a friend to walk with you if you don’t feel safe (or call someone)
  4. If you feel that you are being followed on your way home, don’t let them see where you live (misdirect or choose a different path if you know the area well until you lose them)
  5. It’s okay to say no or lie about your personal information if you don’t feel safe. You don’t know them and they don’t know you.
  6. If given any food, snacks, or beverage from strangers, don’t consume them – throw them out
  7. Watch your belongings (and watch your drink if you go out to a bar or club)
  8. Avoid public demonstrations or protests (there have actually been quite a few happening in the Gwanghwamun/Jongno-areas these days)
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The goal of this blog post is not to scare you about studying abroad, but is here to simply inform and advise. You never think about it until it happens to you or you hear about it from someone else. Hope it helps~

Stay safe and see you in the next one!

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Korea has one of the lowest crime rates and is known for being one of the safest countries in the world, but it doesn’t hurt to always be aware of your surroundings!

*The writing and photos here are meant for use on finsupabroad.com and are not to be copied or redistributed by other entities without permission from the author.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Beautiful view from the moon to the buildings💞🌛

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