In Korea, college students’ accommodations are an important factor that determines their lifestyle. There are three major types of housing for Korean students -- “jachui,” dormitory and family home -- each of which comes with its own set of pros and cons.
“I don’t like to tell people that I’m a ‘jachui-saeng’ because then they would target me as an ‘easy’ girl,” said a university student who declined to give her name. The Korean word “jachui-saeng” refers to a student who lives alone. To those who yearn for independence from parents, the word rings of freedom. Unfortunately, however, for an unsuspecting young woman, living by herself may attract unwanted attention.
Neda Shenavai, a 24-year-old graduate student from the U.S. who is studying at Yonsei University in Seoul, has a reliable housemate who she found through a community board at school. Shenavai arrived in Korea a year ago. She had briefly stayed in the school dormitory, but decided to move out to a private apartment for want of space and cooking facilities.
“I wanted to have a kitchen, a homey environment with a living room and more space.” She now lives in the vibrant neighborhood of Hapjeong, 20 minutes from her school via public transport.
“I’m extremely satisfied (with my apartment). The living room is huge, and the Hangang River is only 10 minutes’ walking distance away.”
“The only difficulty I encounter in living off-campus is that I don’t know the neighbors. I can get lonely when I don’t go to school, especially as my housemate is away most of the time.” Shenavai said half of her Korean friends commute from their family home, while the other half live off-campus.
Huh Hae-sung, 24, spends about three and a half hours daily on the subway to Korea University where he majors in French. He lives in the satellite city of Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, with his parents and cat. For two years, he had lived by himself near the school, but as he entered his third year he moved back home.
“It was too expensive to continue to rent a place just for myself,” he said. “It’s tough commuting back and forth now. I give myself at least two hours to make the trip to class. “But this way, I get to see my cat every day,” he added. “Plus there’s no need to worry about what to eat. Back when I lived alone I involuntarily shed weight -- so much so that people kept mentioning it to me.”
When it comes to the matter of keeping oneself well fed, Kim Yu-min, a second-year student at Ewha Womans University, has no concern about keeping fed, as her dormitory cafeteria serves meals for a mere 4,000 won ($3.40) each.
Since moving from her hometown Daegu, she has only lived in the on-campus housing and has no desire to leave. So far she has shared a double-occupancy room with three roommates in total, and got along well with each of them.
“If I had the choice, I would stay here for my entire university life,” Kim said.
The dorm is clean and safe and has all the basic facilities she needs in the common room -- including a TV and a shared printer. The school also provides a small refrigerator in each dorm room.
“I don’t want to live off-campus by myself, because my parents would worry over me and I would be overspending.” Kim currently pays 200,000 won per month for lodging during the academic semester, as well as an added fee during school breaks. The dorm, however, only supports newcomers and unless the student is a member of the student council or is a scholarship laureate, she has to vacate the room by the second year.
“I was readmitted this year, but next year I will probably have to move.” She said she would consider “hasuk,” a form of homestay, rather than jachui. “Hasuk is similar to jachui, but better, because the homestay mother prepares food for you.”
Where students decide to live reflects on their priorities and concerns. Metropolitan Seoul, fortunately, appears to have grown a diverse range of options that caters to all.
By Lim Jeong-yeo(firstname.lastname@example.org