Gil Austria is a student at the Stevens Institute of Technology and an ISA Featured Photo Blogger. He interned abroad with ISA in Seoul, South Korea.

A great view of the surrounding city only a head’s turn and a window pane away.

A fancy bathroom equipped with bidet-style toilets.

Relaxing common areas where you can eat and talk with new friends at the end of the day.

A spacious, aesthetic room that could easily spice up my Instagram feed.

After a long 21-hour plane ride with a 4 hour stopover in Hong Kong, there was nothing I yearned for more than to explore my new home and lay my head on the pillow I would be sleeping on for the next 8 weeks.

However, when I arrived at my living place, my excitement slowly began to fade into doubt and an uneasy feeling overcame me.  I cautiously followed my internship coordinator down a dark alleyway and arrived at a cozy, modern-looking building.  From the outside, it was less than impressive and seemed extremely inconspicuous. But inside, it was dimly lit yet newly furnished and painted.  I was in awe that such a place existed in what seemed like such a deserted area.

With this, my worries eased, and I tiptoed up the marble stairs to my room with a renewed confidence in my new home.  My internship coordinator punched in the code to the room, pulled the door open, and reached for the light switch.  As the single LED light in room flickered open, I was hit with the crushing blow of my own misguided expectations: I had a Goshiwon to myself.

Goshiwon – a very, small room, often no large than 3 square meters.

My scenic view was reduced to an opaque little window that couldn’t even be opened all the way.

Goshiwon – A small yet economical living quarters with its own private showers and furnishings.

My fancy bathroom became a 3-in-1 compact toilet, shower, and sink with a sketchy red box in the corner that was built for efficiency, not comfort or style.

Goshiwon – A small, box-like room used for students to focus on their studies in their own confined spaces.

My social common area for unwinding at the end of a long day could barely fit two people at the same time.

Goshiwon – the definition that haunted me that night.

My spacious, aesthetic room born from the influence of travel vlogs and movies was no more than 3 square meters big.

At first I stood there in disbelief, almost refusing to enter the room, desperately hoping that this was all just a joke to mess with the new interns and that they had my real room all set up just around the corner.  At that moment, I felt a feeling I didn’t think I would feel at all during this trip: I wanted to go home.

However, I had hope.  The excitement of being in a new country still lingering ever so slightly, I committed myself not to allow this surprise to ruin my trip and to give the room another chance in the morning with a fresh set of well-rested eyes and an open mind.  When I woke up that morning, I had a newfound appreciation of the simplicity and modesty of the room.  Rather than scorn the lack of space, I admired how every corner of the room was efficiently utilized.  No space was wasted; no space was extraneous.

With a new outlook on the room and a strengthened mentality to accept and deal with the differences of living in another country, I actually began to enjoy living in my small room.  It was a challenge trying to fit my belongings around the room in the most space-efficient way possible, but I saw this ordeal as a part of my authentic life as a college student living in Seoul and that made my time there much more enjoyable and worthwhile.  Once I overcame my own self-generated disappointment, I was able to see the value of my Goshiwon and relish in its beauty.

View from the rooftop of my Goshiwon at sunrise

(By the way, the pictures of the really nice hotel room that appeared above are from the ISA Excursion to Busan.  If you also choose to have you ISA experience in Seoul and you are offered the opportunity to go to Busan, I highly recommend going on the trip.)

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