If you’re coming to South Korea, either on exchange or with long-term housing in mind, there are plenty of options that bring along plenty of unexpected cultural differences.
A defining feature of many South Korean cities for better or for worse, are the clusters of large apartment buildings. Tall, grey, and impressive, with their respective companies logo plastered on the top floors of the buildings side, are numerous in many cities of Korea from Seoul to Busan.
I personally find them extremely interesting, they’re one of my favourite parts of Korea, and although they provide housing to most residents in Seoul, they’re largely considered an eyesore. This is more than fair, on account of them now blocking a decent chunk of the view into Gangnam from the peak of Naksan’s Old Seoul City Wall (Still check it out though, walk through the cultural village on the way and look at the murals to boost the insta). Looking out the window of your flight to Incheon or Gimpo international airports will give you an idea of the size and scale of these buildings that dot Korea’s landscape, and walking on a busy street or being in the subway during rush hour will show you exactly why they are necessary.
The apartments are generally divided into two types – 아파트 (Apateu – as in apartment) and 빌라 (Billa – like Villa), with the former generally being in a gated community. They’re not only found in South Korea however, with large apartment buildings being present all throughout Asia. But their imposing presence throughout Seoul lend to the unique feeling and vibe of the city, and remind you that over ten million people do indeed live here.
When it comes to smaller, more student oriented accommodation, typical examples of dormitories are a part of every major university in Seoul. At Yonsei University where I’m staying as part of PRIMO program by ANU Global Programs (cheers again guys !), the two main dormitories for international students are SK Global House and International house.
SK Global House has two options, single or shared rooms. Both of which carry the same furnishings, including a beautiful heated floor which has become my best friend and defends my feet from the harsh Korean winters. This kind of floor heating, called 온돌(ondol) in Korean, has been a part of Korean culture for centuries, where the heat from the kitchen stove would be channeled to under the house. Nowadays they just use regular modern heating technology, but the name and tradition has remained.
Living in SK Global House offers up the opportunity of experiencing the traditional two-people-sleeping-in-one-room accomodation which we have all seen from American movies, and was a notable difference to all of ANU’s accomodations. One stranger part of this experience is the lack of a door to the shower room. Each room has a door for the entrance and for the toilet, but the shower room is open. Suffice to say my roommate and I have gotten to know eachother quite well during our stay.
As with all countries, housing reflects their respective cultures and provides interesting insight into the history and environmental adaptations they’ve been through over time. So if you’re ever in Korea, fire up the Ondol and lie down for the ultimate cultural experience.