The Seoul Diaries: Life Lessons South Korea Taught Me

The final post. We have come to the end at last. I am officially back on US soil and I can honestly say that I miss my life and friends in Korea a lot. Living abroad by myself and studying abroad in South Korea has taught me a lot of things and I thought that I would briefly cover those lessons in my last blog episode.

✧・゚: *✧・゚:* *:・゚✧*:・゚✧

Lesson 1: Run after what you want

Throughout my year abroad, I have seen many Koreans running and sprinting across even the biggest of traffic intersections to make it to the other side of the street before the crossing light turned red. While this may seem like a small thing to observe, it remained a huge memory for me because – before coming to Korea – I would be the person who wouldn’t even try to make it across the street. Whether the people running had a job interview that they couldn’t be late for or had a friend to meet at a cafe, I took this as a sign for me to just go after what I want in life. To just start running, not regret any of my decisions halfway in the middle of the street, and make it to the other side.

With this being said, its okay to not always be on time. I know that I am a stickler for being on time (or in other cases, being fashionably early), but sometimes Korea’s public transportation would mess that up. Normally, it is very punctual and you can plan getting to and from a place with ease, but sometimes a train would be 15 minutes late or I would come down the subway stairs to just miss the subway doors closing and have to wait another 20 minutes for the next train. I learned that it is okay to miss your train and wait for the next one. It is still coming at the end of the day.

Lesson 2: Be Vocal

Being in a foreign country for the first time in the beginning made me feel that I didn’t have a voice at first. When I would try to ask for things or inquire in Korean regarding immigration or exchange student things, I would usually be given short or vague answers to my questions, which was followed by an awkward silence as the person would look at me like, “Is that all?”. I usually can advocate for myself in America with no problem, but something about the slight language barrier made this a bit difficult in the beginning of my journey abroad. It is hard to ask questions when you don’t know all the words for certain things.

It wasn’t until I was riding the bus one day and the bus driver stopped at a bus stop. He quickly opened and closed the exiting doors before this older lady could get up, scan her bus card, and get off. Instead of staying quiet and waiting for the next bus stop to get off (which is something past Faith would have done), the lady got up and firmly told the bus driver to stop and open the door. Of course, this happened in Korean so it was done in a direct, but polite way. The bus driver listened and opened the doors again so that she could get off. I sat there astonished. I had never seen anyone do that before, but it was there that I made a mental note that I needed to be more vocal and fend for myself. After all, I was in a different country and nobody else could stand up for me except for me. #channelthatlady’senergy

Lesson 3: It is okay to do things alone

This lesson was more relevant back during fall semester when Covid regulations made things extremely hard for social gatherings of 2 people or more, but I still think that it is an important one. Korea has a very big culture of eating in groups and sharing meals with others as a form of social bonding. This is one of the things that I loved so much about Korea. However, the flip side of this was that I felt a sense of awkwardness whenever I would have to eat alone in public, surrounded by large groups of people or couples. I felt like a social outcast a little bit for eating alone.

After a while though, I came to accept that it is okay to eat alone, go on adventures alone, etc. As long as you are having fun with what you are doing and enjoying the moment by yourself. There are even places in restaurants that seat one person or have a menu where one person can order something without having to split it with another person (1인 메뉴 최고!). Yes, having some kind of social life is important (even when abroad), but also being able to have alone time is good too. If you still feel weird eating by yourself in public, download a show on Netflix or read a book while you are there. It is completely fine to do. Plus, doing this gets you out of the house and into the streets of Korea where you can try new and delicious foods!~

Lesson 4: 마음 들어 해

Feeling tired and lazy? Take a day off.

In the mood to pet a cat? Head to a cat cafe and enjoy the kitty vibes.

Just do what you want to do. The literal translation of “마음 들어 해” is to “follow/listen to your heart”. Make the most of the time you have and do things that you want to do. For every season of Korea, I would make a to-do list of places to go to and activities that I wanted to do and I – for the most part – did them all. What made it better was doing these things with friends, but I also did some of these things alone too.

The worst type of regret when studying abroad is knowing that you could have done something, but you didn’t because you held yourself back or talked yourself out of doing it. While in Korea, if there is a cute pop-up store down the street, just go and check it out instead of telling yourself “I’ll just go another day”. At the same time, don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to “do it all” and do only what you feel like doing in the moment. I know that sounds super vague but it makes more sense once you study abroad and realize that you only have ____ number of days before you have to leave.

What I would tell my past self from 1 year ago:

  • Always ask questions, no matter how small or dumb it may sound in your head.
  • Make sure to advocate for yourself and your needs.
  • It is okay to go on solo trips by yourself.
  • Be on top of your deadlines for important things (immigration, housing, etc)
  • When life gets a bit overwhelming, go to a cute cafe and treat yourself.
  • Don’t stress too much about your academics. You’ll be fine.
  • Keep all of your receipts/copies of documents.
  • Don’t pack so much deodorant. You only need 2. Also, ditch the rain boots. They weigh too much.
  • It is okay to ask your friends for help. Seriously, don’t go about it alone.
  • It is not what happens to you, but how you react to the situation that life hands you. Focus on what you can control.

I will now include a collage of photos from my time abroad that resonate the most to me:

Exchange student life in South Korea has taught me to be brave, independent, open to new experiences, and more spontaneous. I made the most of my experience and feel that I have accomplished a lot and made a positive impact during my journey.

To all of the new friends that I made along the way, thank you~ 한국에서 내 만난 새로운 친구들에게, 고마워요!~

For more travel or exchange student questions:

Travel Instagram: @faithinkoreaa

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

Leave a Reply