Living in Korea: Our life in Hongdae | Arabella | Chloe | Marika

Updated on Aug 29, 2023 · By Tom

This week we decided to interview not one, nor two, but three of our customers together! Arabella, Chloe and Marika are three students living in Hongdae, they shared with us their struggles and best memories in Korea.

20220615_165306.jpgMarika is Finnish, she has been studying in Sogang university for the past semester. 

Chloe is French, she will come back home in a few weeks after her semester in Korea where she perfected her knowledge of 3d animation, video editing, screenplay writing...

Arabella is an American Politics & International Relations graduate that have been in Korea for a total of 3years now. 

Why did they come to Korea?


Q. Did you already know about Korea before you decided to do your exchange?

Chloe - I already knew some stuff about Korea because I've always liked Asia and specially Japan. I also had a Korean traditional art class in middle school that I really liked and I have mixed French-Korean friends so they already told me a bit about the country. And since I wanted to work in Asia, I was like let's try to do an study exchange first! It opens more possibilities that just travelling here for holidays.

Marika - I did some research, I was already interested that's why I applied to go to Korea. I mainly wanted to learn the language you can find things online but it's different from experiencing it on a daily basis you know.

Arabella - My step mom is Korean so I grew up with her and she told me a lot about Korea obviously, but I studied Political Science in undergrad and Foreign Policy specifically so when I came here for my exchange I found it to be really interesting because I'm from the US. So, you know the US has a big presence here and it's really an intertwined relationship between China, Japan, North and South Korea and the US. I found it really fascinating and that's pretty much what I study now so that's why I am here.


Q. How would you say that the Korean wave has influenced your choice?

C - I think mostly everything…

A & M - Mostly everything? laughs

C - Haha well yeah like the food, the music, the dramas, movies.. And I'm also working in the movie world so I'm learning how to make videos, music videos and movies. So of course I watch a lot of stuff from all around the world. And I kinda like K-pop as well!

M - Yep me too. a lot of K-pop and K-dramas. Well I wouldn't say a lot..

A - Don't lie like that, they got the posters in their room.

C - I don't post them on my walls tho!

A - It's ok you can like it.

M - Haha you're still judging tho!

A - I'm not! I like K-dramas too and I really like Korean beauty, especially like my step mom. Everyone says she looks like my sister because she always does skin routine and all that kind of stuff so I grew up following her to the sauna and everything.


Q. Did you have a "Korean Dream" before coming, has anything surprised you?

A - There is a bit of xenophobia. I mean I think that's just natural and especially during COVID time it was heightened. But other than that Korean food is really great, the energy and soul are super exciting and it's a big city. I've been there for a couple of years so I start to get a bit jaded but when I first came I was like I died for it, I loved it.

C - I didn't have the Korean dream or anything like that. I already knew how it was like in reality because I talked with my friends and I asked them questions but yeah they were a bit frigthened about the foreigners first.

M - Yeah definitely, I wasn't expecting it to be like a K-drama or anything.

A - It's like a little bit odd I will say, coming from the US. Because when you're walking down the street you hear people point at you and call you a foreigner, that's so weird to me. Like if you do that I think it's kind of racist. But I think it happened more when I first arrived here. Even in 2017 it was already popular to come here but in the recent years it's become a lot more popular so it doesn't happen so often anymore.

M - I think I don't really care, I don't even notice anymore. But at first it was really weird like people don't have any shame, they are able to stare at you up and down.

A - You do feel like a zoo animal a bit but it's not that bad, you know that people aren't mean to you, they are mainly curious.


Q. Did you struggle to get your Korean ID card (ARC)?

A - I think it's a little bit hard to come here as a foreigner even with the government because for the ARC it takes so long to get it. And you can't get your bank account without it and you can't pay online unless you have a sim card linked to your ARC and your bank account. So it can be a little frustrating but that's definitely better than when I first came.

C - For me the process was kind of easy but my university gave us the deadline 10 hours before the end so it was in a rush.

M - I mean my school handled it very well like it made it very easy for me so I didn't have many problems with it. But I think everyone else struggled going through the official website.

A - Oh! The English websites… why are they this way? I don't get it, that's the one thing that was very different from my expectations. Like everyone talks about Korea being this tech hub and in so many ways it really is, there are so many things that make me think: why don't we have this back home?
But the English websites and buying things online are impossible here, you have to click through a million of pages to do a single thing. 
One example is that I have to go to Jeju in two weeks to take a government program exam because the website was so complicated that when I tried to pay online it kept on kicking me out every five minutes so I couldn't enroll to the one in Seoul and the only space left was in Jeju so I have to fly there. A costly nonsense!


Their best experiences!


Q. Talking about Jeju, could you recommend a place to visit to our readers?

C - It really depends on what you wanna do.

A - Around schools and Hongdae areas are lively and have a young kind of vibe. Oh and I really like Seoul Forest actually! There are several cute cafes over there and I like getting a little bit of greenery in my life because Seoul is a big city so I like it over there.

M - The Han River is good too, you can walk there and take the bikes.


Q. Do you have any story you want to share?

C - I went to Daeju on a whimp. My friends proposed me to go there and I decided an hour before, I told my roommates I will come back around 8 pm but I came back at 8 pm… the next day! I went there to see Psy. Oh and I saw him again in the school festivals. I went too all of them for a week straight. I loved the Seoul National University one because I wanted to see BeWhy, he is my favourite artist. And I also saw Psy again, Zico and Aespa!

Mud_Fest_2008_(2679028799).jpegSource: Hypnotica Studios Infinite

A - Yes and I hope it comes back after COVID. Have you ever been to the Boryeong Mud Festival? It's so fun! It's this place where the mud is good for your skin I guess, and so they do like slides and mud pools and whatever, it's definitely the best thing I've ever done here and it used to be like a big international tourist thing but of course because of COVID they couldn't do it. So I hope they will take it back, it seriously was the best. I have a weird fascination with being in mud but it's so fun I swear!

tim burton ddp.jpegSource: Korea Joongang Daily

M - We went to the DDP (Dongdaemun Plaza) to the Tim Burton exhibit it was quite good.

MBC-Dramia.jpegC - Actually before coming I had this to-do list of things that I really wanted to do and I almost did everything, so I'm really happy. Like taking a class at 1 Milion dance studio, or visiting the palaces and filming sets. There is a big reproduction of a palace in Yongin called the Dae Jang Geum Park. And they used it to film a BTS music video and many historical drama. And what's amazing is that you can really go inside buildings and everything.

M - We also wore hanbok in Gyeongbokgung Palace, it was really big and there were different parts with different views, ponds and stuff like this.


Q. Is there anything you want to add for foreigners wanting to come to Korea?

C - Yeah I would like to say that here clubs are in another dimension. I like having fun with my friends but sometimes it was like, huh?

A - I got a fight with this one guy. The problem is that clubs in Hongdae are very foreigner-friendly so a lot of guys that are into foreigners know that and so they go to these clubs and they are so weird. It used to be so great in 2017! But went the COVID restrictions went off everyone went crazy. For the first couple of weekends after that people were acting like a mess like there were people rolling around on the floor and being so drunk but it will be better now that people are calming down a bit.

M - The biggest shock was that people are allowed to smoke inside so everything smells like cigarettes.

C - And people in the streets that grab your arm to follow them in the club.

A - But I would say that student life still is the best in Korea, being a student here is so much fun like there is such a stuying culture and there is so much stuff set up for you to be a student like cute study cafes, pop-up and theme cafes too. I brought them to a Hello Kitty one.

C - We also went to a My Hero Academia one. There is one for everybody!

20220615_171141.jpgThank you very much for everything, see you soon!

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