Just like many foreigners living in Korea I think my experience living in various types of Korean housing have been unique. Going from living in a big size one-room, to a 3-bedroom family apartment, and finally small-size cubicle room I would say that I have seen it all. However, in many urban cities especially in Asia you would be surprised, appalled, or maybe even astonished at how housing units – (i.e. dormitories, goshi-tels, office-tels, hasukjibs, one-rooms, studios, apartments, etc.) are cramped into economically sized spaces to accommodate as many persons as structurally possible.
Having lived in a number of cities back in the states – such as Boston and Washington, D.C. I have lived in various types of housing. My experience living in Korea was somewhat similar. For one thing, with every building I lived in I needed to not only sign a contract with the owner/leaser but also provide a down payment, or key money deposit of 5 million won or more. In addition, I needed a Korean sponsor to co-sign with me as an insurer, so that I would have a Korean native handle any rising affairs.
While there are many similarities for finding/ and receiving housing – major differences do exist. For instance, at my first residence in Korea I lived in a very small room in a large corporate office building. From the exterior one might think that the building only held offices, however, certain floors actually had living quarters. Due to being such a small space I quickly looked into changing housing and found my one-room apartment through a friend. When I moved into this apartment I actually moved into a privately owned 3-floor villa building with only 8 apartments including the landlord’s on the 3rd floor. Holding only a few residents, many family friends/acquaintances of the landlord, created a very tight-knit & family oriented environment in my building. Due to this I frequently would meet, chat, and visit my landlord, his family, and some of the other residents often.
I lived in that lovely 3-floor villa for two years as a KU grad student before moving out to Yongin and into my bosses leased 3-bedroom apartment located in a large apartment complex. Having only seen these complexes on TV/ in movies/ in the distance in Seoul, I was amazed to live in what is considered modern-style family housing in Korea. At my new residence located higher than the tenth floor I could see mountains outside my doorstep and numerous apartment complexes outside the side sky view window.
At first I imagined that my residence there would be nice. However, I quickly realized that many Korean residents were shy to speak with me, and a little surprised to find out that I was a resident there too. Being such a large complex, the existence of any residential community was not present. Also, no foreigners lived there from observation. In addition, the apartment complex was situated on a mountainside and 15-20 minutes walking distance away from local shops and restaurants. Located in the middle of nowhere, 15 minutes away by bus from the nearest subway station, and 1 hour by bus outside of Seoul I failed to see the perks to such high-end living. In the end, after a few months I moved out. My departure was not really due to my housing, but because of the poor treatment I had been receiving from my boss at the hagwon I worked at, and direct threats I received her family member who also lived in the 3-bedroom apartment.
After living in a high-rise apartment in Yongin I returned to Seoul and moved into a one-room unit inside a new privately owned 4-floor apartment building. While the one-room units were not the largest in size each room was equipped with new appliances (i.e. electric stove, fans, a washing machine), received free building wi-fi access, and came partially furnished. In addition, the new building was located in a quaint hill-side Korean neighborhood, which I talk about more in my Living in Sillim-dong:Seoul (신림동:서울) blog. Since the beginning of 2016 this was my last residence in Korea.
All of my housing experiences while living in Korea were unique. During my three years there I was able to live in a corporate office setting, a singleton setting, a Korean community setting, a modern Korean apartment setting, and once again a singleton setting. I also was privileged to live in different areas inside and outside of Seoul. Based on all of these experiences including the ones I have had in different cities back in the states I am always appreciative of space. Coming back home to a private house and a grassy yard was always a fond memory I’d have during vacation periods.
Living in three global cities in my lifetime I am well-aware that urban lifestyles come with little space. For some Asian countries like Korea space is tight within urbanized regions. In light of this the Korean government is working on not only expanding its cities outward (i.e. Seoul), but also looking into creating new satellite cities such as Sejong City to make more room for government offices. Having once visited this city for a job interview at my alma mater’s campus I was quite surprised by how much open space was there. However, from my previous experience living in Yongin I have learned that while I admire space I would prefer to live somewhere rather than in the middle of nowhere. That being said I hope that when me and my boyfriend live together we are able to live somewhere in-between.