Don’t Go Solo, Get Seoul Mate
South Korea is a country famed for its hospitality. The city of Seoul is especially known for rolling out the metaphorical red carpet for international tourists and businesspeople, giving them information and resources galore. But what support services are available for the estimated 30,000 international students in Seoul? Experiences differ from school to school and student to student.
“Some international students who come to Korea are treated like VIP guests,” says Hassan Abid, a Pakistani graduate of Kyung Hee University. “But the students who come on scholarships often don’t get the same treatment.”
In 2011, the Seoul Metropolitan Government invited 96 international students, including Abid, from more than 30 countries along with 12 Korean students to the fourth Seoul International Student Forum at the Seoul Global Center. The students were divided into six groups and given two months to complete a task: propose a policy to improve the quality of life in Seoul for Koreans and foreign residents alike.
Drawing on their own experiences, Abid and his group members conducted a two-week survey of Seoul-based international students. More than half the respondents (58 percent) received information to help them transition to life on campus prior to their arrival in Korea; more than one-quarter (27 percent) said they were somewhat proficient in speaking Korean upon their arrival, and 30 percent said their university told them how to travel from Incheon Airport to their campus.
Based on the survey results, Abid’s group proposed a smartphone and tablet app that “conveniently connects international students and faculty with a centralized repository of information and tools relevant to life in Seoul.” The group won a runner-up prize, but due to limited resources and lack of funds, the Seoul Metropolitan Government couldn’t implement the app.
Fast forward to 2012, when Abid graduated from Kyung Hee University with a master’s degree in computer engineering. He soon joined a software company as an app developer, and in 2013 he decided to improve and implement the app, Seoul Mate (formerly Seoul MAPpedia).
Available in four languages (Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese), Seoul Mate gives the VIP treatment to all Seoul-based international students. The app guides students from the airport to their respective schools, and can show them around their campus. It publishes up-to-date information about international student accommodation, job and volunteer opportunities, scholarships, online courses, medical services and events. “This is the app I wish I had when I arrived at Incheon (Airport), or even before then,” Abid says.
In addition, Seoul Mate has Seoul dining information (including vegan, vegetarian, halal and kosher) and tourist information (sites related to hiking, K-drama, K-pop and Gangnam).
“The focus will always be international students,” says Abid, “and we’re always looking to improve.”
Groove Korea is a sponsor of Seoul Mate. The app is available for download on iTunes and Google Play.