I want to touch of some of the experiences and challenges that I’ve had while living in South Korea. This is speaking from the perspective of an exchange student who is living in Seoul from February to June for 5 months. This also addresses my experience during the Covid-19 pandemic as it significantly changed a lot of activities and experiences.
One of the biggest things that I needed to do was abide by the quarantine rules in order to arrive in South Korea. When I arrived on February 10, this was during the time when the quarantine period was reduced from 10 to 7 days. I was fortunate to have an airbnb where I self-quarantined with my roommates and I brought food in my luggage in order to eat for the week-long quarantine. This ties into one of the major issues which was online ordering and payments.
Beforehand, I heard many problems from current international students about the struggles to purchase anything online. This is related to the lack of either the Alien Registration Card (ARC) or a Korean bank account. Foreigners cannot make online purchases in most Korean websites because they are required to create an account. In order to create an account, the foreigner needs to have an ARC and a Korean phone number to verify the account. In order to get the ARC, you have to make an appointment with the Immigration Office. However, appointments cannot be made until you arrive in Korea and you will be forced to wait at least 3-4 weeks for an appointment due to the high volume of foreigners applying for the ARC. When you arrive and submit all your documents for the appointment, then you will be forced to wait 3-7 weeks for your ARC card to arrive. Only then will you be able to make online accounts and open a bank account.
It is virtually impossible to make online purchases or get discounts in South Korea as a foreigner due to this requirement. By the time a student will receive their ARC, they will only have 1 month out of 5 months to use their ARC. Of which, they have to return their ARC card to the immigration office at the airport during their departure, otherwise, you will face hefty fines. I have even talked to native-born Koreans and they have even noted the challenges with creating online accounts and logins with Korean websites.
Another interesting point to note about Korea is the surprising amount of sweet food that exists in South Korean cuisine, speaking particularly from my experience in 2022. A majority of all snacks, food, and drink in South Korea is sweet. There have been a disturbing number of garlic chips, cheese, and other foods that I expected to be salty—but they turned out to be sweet. Pizza, sandwiches, french fries, chips, and many other dishes and sauces have been extremely sweet. There is a strong trend for sweeter dishes in South Korea. Coming from an American perspective where a significant amount of food is processed or artificial, I was surprised to come across this realization. I originally thought that American dishes and snacks were too sweet, but after living in South Korea, it is interesting to discover that the opposite is true. Modern South Korean dishes are sweet (take note that I do not address traditional dishes or conventionally sweet foods). Depending on your taste buds, you may love or dislike the palette here in Korea.