Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Guide to Studying in Korea II

Somehow, I believe there are still many new things to see and experience even if we have stayed in a country for quite some time. This is now my fourth year in Korea and I have yet to visit the little Korean island called Jeju (제주도), a little less than an hour ride by plane from Daegu.

Hangang River Cruise in Seoul
Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju
I have seen many friends graduating one after another and it is always a bitter sweet moment. I am happy to see them graduating but I do not know what is next for me after my graduation.

There is so many possibilities and frankly, I am quite reluctant to make a firm decision on what's next after the hard mortar board placed over my head. One more year and I'm taking it one step at a time.


These days, Korea attracts a lot of students around the world for its decent and affordable education. A small minority of them are sponsored by the Korean government, and the rest are self paying students (mostly from the mainland China). Malaysia, as far as I know, is the only country sending students to Korea under the Public Service Department (JPA) or the MARA scholarships.

In my case, I am the Korean government scholar and when I first arrived to Korea, I was pretty clueless because I was never a fan of Korean dramas or songs. I was literally "lost" in Korea for a couple of weeks because I can't speak Korean, no buddy, couldn't use my laptop and I did not meet any foreigners (I was wrong though, after a few weeks, I met four helpful Malaysians) living in my university.   

The moral of the story- Some basic Korean language proficiency does helps but what's more important is your sense of adventure, never be afraid to try new things.

Living Cost

This is very subjective and it varies from city to city. In Seoul, a normal meal at the university cafeteria will be around 4000 Won (1200 Won for a roll of Kimbap but eating Kimbap everyday is just too much). In Daegu, it ranges from 2500 Won (A rarity these days unless at the cafeteria) to 4000 Won.

Nevertheless, living in the dormitory is much better because some dormitories (like mine) provide 3 complete meals a day at a lower cost (You have to pay for it in advance and the fee will be already included in the dormitory housing fee).

The Fee for the dormitory (at Kyungpook National University) is around 1,100,000 Won (or approximately 1,000 USD) per semester and this includes the food. Staying outside will cost you around 250,000 Won per month (excluding food) in Daegu but it can be more costly in Seoul. 

Most of the time, the 집주인 (landlord) will ask for a deposit (at least 1,000,000 Won but it is refundable at the end of the contract) as a guarantee.

For Malaysians, treat 1,000 Won as RM 1. This makes life easier if we do not convert the currency. OMG! One watermelon for 60 Ringgit (20,000 Won)? This is crazy! Well, some fruits in Korea can be very expensive.

The strawberries (spring), the persimmons (fall) and the sweet yellowish honeydew (summer) are very cheap depending on the seasons.

Housing: 150,000 Won to 300,000 Won per month
Food: +-200,000 Won 
Telephone bill: 15,000 Won (a normal phone) to 80,000 Won+ (smartphone)


Koreans generally love coffees. Hence, coffee shops are found all over the places. A minute walk from my dormitory, I can find at least 6 cafes. Although, I am not very fond of coffees, I wouldn't mind if people were to treat me with Starbucks coffee- I love it.

However, I would always order Hot Chocolate or Blueberry smoothie if I am with my friends. In a normal cafe, it will be around 3000 to 4000 Won. Yummy.

During exam weeks, it is also not uncommon to see students staying the whole day in the cafe revising. I find most Koreans especially those living in Seoul are very fashionable. Somehow most Asian clothing fit them perfectly.

Nevertheless, most overseas brands are very expensive because it is usually only one distributor monopolizing the business. ZARA, Guess and GAP are mark-up around 20-30% more than the usual price.

Sometimes, I have to wait for sales to afford one. 

However, you can get cheaper ones if you are to shop at hypermarkets (like E-Mart, Homeplus). Jeans is around 20 USD+ and shirts are affordable (maybe around 15 USD each?). You wouldn't be able find such price if you are to shop at Uniqlo (A pair of jeans is around 50 dollars+).

If you can, do not buy any winter clothing from Malaysia (unless if you are coming during winter) because you can get one in Korea similar in price, more variety and of course, better looking. :)

If can, buy the "Heattech" clothing by Uniqlo or equivalent (I am using one from Giordano). It does keep you a little warm as long as it is snugged tightly (fit) around your body. On the other hand, a jacket will be fine during spring and autumn. For first timer to a four season country, adjusting to the temperature can be a bit problematic so bring a thick jacket or sweater if you couldn't bear with the cold.

My city, Daegu, is the third largest city in Korea. There are many places to enjoy and experience the culture, but being a student, like everyone, I have to watch over my spending. Korea has many cheap places to play sports (ex baseball), snooker, karaoke (노래방), and drinking.

Karaoke or Norabang is only around 20,000 Won for 2 hours (depending on the hours) but you can get a smaller room for 1,000 Won per 4 songs. Cheap huh? Besides Korean and English songs, there are plenty of Filipino (very old songs according to my Filipino friend), Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian (old songs too) songs available too.

Cinemas are everywhere. A ticket here is around 7 dollars which is almost double than to Malaysia. (TIPS: If you purchase a ticket for the first screening of the day, there is a discount, a ticket costs only 5,000 Won/less than 5 dollars, but you have to wake up early to watch the maybe 9 am movie!). I did that only once though (because of Milla Jovovich- the sexay Resident Evil zombie slayer. hehe).


One word - Awesome! In cities like Seoul, Daegu and Busan, public transportation there are very efficient, convenient and fast. Understandably, public transportation to places located at the outskirts are hard to find but overall, good. If you are staying in Korea (eg Seoul) for a week plus, it's better to use the transportation card (Seoul T-Money: 3,000 Won).     


Korean language is (depending on people, some find learning Korean easy in the beginning but in my case) difficult when you start but once you have mastered level 2, learning level 3 is surprisingly easier. I went out with many friends even though we can converse in only level 2 Korean.

In Seoul, it is more common to find more Japanese students at the language institutes than other nationalities but in Daegu, the majority of the students are from China.

Level 1 is about the Korean characters and very basic conversations. Level 2, 3 and 4 are all about commonly used grammar and vocabulary. Level 5 and 6 delve into more serious topics like opinions on politics, etc hence, expanding your vocabulary.

Frankly speaking, science subjects during the first year will be very difficult no matter which level you are in. My first year was tough because all scientific terms, books, lectures are all in Korean. And I did not learn any scientific terms (not even one) in Korean during my time at the language institute. I was starting all over again from scratch.

Time passes, and from second year onwards, English books are widely used. Koreans still use translated books (depending on the professor's permission) but most exams are in English. Alright... I chose classes that give English exams paper! Life was easier from then on... 3.77... then to almost 4... You just need to work a little harder and smarter than the Koreans. Nothing is that simple lah.

Depending on the professors, you are allowed to use electronic dictionary to translate the Korean terms during the classes or examinations. Some scientific terms cannot be translated by the dictionary. :( My phone's dictionary perform the same task in translating but the only difference is that you are not allowed to bring your phone into the exam hall.  

Vision Korea 2012

I have almost fulfilled the prerequisites to graduate from my major. Hence, I am now trying to minor in Business Admin. To minor in a particular field of study at my university, you need to complete more than 22 credit hours. I am not sure whether the same applies to other universities in Korea.

Internet is super fast in Korea. Streaming movies, downloading, etc are a breeze but there are many sites that are censored by the Korean Government. Anything to do with pro North Korea is censored. Try searching for "North Korea official website" if you are in Korea and you will know why when you click on that North Korean homepage.

The best part of your life begins during language institute (lots of field trips, free time), drops drastically during your first year, and improve as time passes. I believe as long as you have the perseverance, never give up easily and be optimistic in life, everything will be fine.


Scholarships are not easy to get in Korea. It is like a hit or miss, either you get it or not. A few Koreans I know work as tutors, waitress and even as convenient store employee. Some Koreans too work as staffs in their university department offices to pay for their education.

To obtain a scholarship from any university, you need to have good results. According to my university's scholarship guide, you need to be the top 7% of all international students to receive an 80% (80 percent deduction from your tuition fees) scholarship for the following semester (Top 30% only entitled a 20% scholarship).

My university's link (scholarship, admission info, application, etc): Click here

Study in Korea (Korean Government Scholarship, etc): Click here

Tip: If you love writing, try to apply to be a reporter at your university's English magazine. You might receive an additional 75% scholarship. If your academic results are good too, you need not pay any tuition fees.

My studies are already sponsored by the government so I am not entitled for the 75% scholarship but this is a good way to get free education in Korea for students without any scholarship.    

The Korean government has strict regulations on working part-time for the foreign students and since I haven't work part time before, I cannot comment on this. For some Malaysian students sponsored by the Malaysian government, a handful of them are doing the "Halal" Tour (a tour catering for Malaysian Muslims to Korea, a niche market). All I can say is that they are earning huge sum of money from it.

It is very easy to succumb to the temptation of getting easy money, but as a student, I believe that if you can juggle between both work and your academic obligations, then, go for it, as long as it is legal and within the boundaries of law.

If you want to work but is not so fortunate to get a job, try to apply for part time job at your university's lab, department, etc. The minimum hourly wage is 4,860 Won per hour. (However, if you are working at some restaurants, you might be paid less. Sadly, some employers do not follow the government's directive.)


Spring is cool and refreshing and if you are allergic to pollen, it can be a big inconvenience. Summer is hot and humid (very similar to Malaysia but Daegu is hotter than Malaysia during summer) and yes, we have typhoon in Korea (occurring almost every summer). Autumn is similar to spring. In between seasons, it will rain quite frequently, so be prepared with an umbrella.

Winter is dry and freezing. What makes winter unbearable is the wind factor. The chilly wind does make your ears "numb" so it's good to have ear muffs and muffler to cover your neck but I felt beanie is optional.

Getting a Job/Graduate Studies

To get a job in Korea, it is advisable to graduate from a Korean university. Many companies in Korea require their foreign employees to be at least proficient with conversational Korean. From my conversation with my friends working in Korea, landing a job here without any Korean proficiency is quite difficult. Unless you plan to work as an English teacher, the probability to get a job here is low.

If you are graduating from Korean university, every year (around early October) in Seoul, they will be a career fair for foreign students in Korea. Students can also try applying for internships (and this may lead to full employment after graduation) at every semester.

Link for the 2012 International Student Career fair here (Note: many companies' job offers have already been removed from this homepage). If you plan to further your graduate studies here, you can refer to any Korean university's homepage and find their graduate admission procedures. Scholarships are available but the most rewarding scholarship is from the Korean government.

The merits of graduating in Korea lie not in the strength in their education (not perfect in my opinion), but in the chances of working for a numbers of well known companies headquartered here, learning to adapt in a homogeneous, hierarchical society and experience living in one of the most successful Asian Tiger economies.


In between my free time, I contribute articles for the Korean food (Check them out at the link here) blog. For half-a-year too, I worked as the ASEAN-Korea weblog correspondent, writing articles about my country. I have to admit due to deadline constraint and my other commitments, they were not as perfect as I wanted them to be.

The poem "If" by Robert Frost still holds true to this day and it is one of my favorite poems till this day. I am neither the first to step foot on this Land of Morning Calm nor I am regretting my decision to study in Korea.

Honestly, Korea is still not a preferred destination for education to most people, and I can understand the many reasons behind it. In my case, I love to walk on any untrodden path (the path people rarely take) and enjoy the nice scenery along the way.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

"If" by Robert Frost

May you have a fantastic 2013 and best of luck!


Mimieyy said...

Ah! I really want to study in Korea. Most of your posts in this blog have helped me a lot. Happy new year!

gloryjane said...

Hi, I will be goin to Korea this end of February. Will be studying in LEI of SNU under JPA scholarship. Would like to know approximately how much is the cost of living for a student lliving in Seoul? Thnks in advance :)

kyle said...

around 500,000 Won++. Somehow, most JPA students have enough money to cover their living expenses. Welcome to Korea~!

soyamalt said...

i would like to apply the scholarship by Korea govern too. But besides of good academic results do they also require high kk marks ? Mostly what kind of student that will get the scholarship ?

kyle said...

Definitely. This shows you are an all-rounder, but personally, it really depends more on your interest in that co curricular activities.

naden said...

Hi Kyle! I really want to study in Korea next year. It would be really helpful if you can answer my questions about your opinion regarding the KGSP. I've emailed you about it. Thank you!

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