[Journalism Internship] From subways to street names — navigating Seoul isn’t always simple

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[Journalism Internship] From subways to street names — navigating Seoul isn’t always simple

“I got stuck in the subway station because I wasn’t aware of needing a specific ticket to transfer to another subway line,” said 22-year- old tourist Matthew Le.

Seoul boasts a world-class public transportation system, but visitors like Le often struggle to navigate the different lines and ticketing options.
Le’s trip fell apart when he transferred from Line 5 to Line 3 while using a Single Journey Ticket. Despite the English language option on the ticket vending machine, he was not aware he had to purchase a Destination Selection ticket if he was going to transfer to a different line during his journey.
Rather than a Destination Selection ticket, he purchased a Minimum Fare Only ticket because of the lack of information explaining the difference between the two tickets. When Le tried to transfer, he could not pass the subway turnstile and found himself stuck.
Dongxuan Hou, a 21-year-old exchange student from George Mason University, also had trouble when he first arrived in Korea. He dis- covered that the T-money system for purchasing transportation cards is only available in cash.
“Inside the subway station. I have to use cash to recharge my subway card which causes a big inconvenience,” Hou said. “In one case, I didn’t have cash with me and I didn’t have enough balance on my transit card, so I couldn’t enter the station and wasted a lot of time and inconvenience.”  
Public Transportation Cards in Korea can only be used and recharged with cash. The inability to purchase tickets or recharge cards, both of which are mainly used by tourists, with credit or debit cards can cause inconvenience for visitors to Seoul.
Public transport isn’t the only issue.
On June 8, the Korean government lifted its Covid-19 travel restriction, allowing travelers from overseas to visit the country without quarantine. This increased the number of tourists visiting the Seoul Tourist Information Center from January to May this year by 296 percent on year, according to research conducted by Seoul Tourism Organization.  
The Seoul Tourist Information Center might be of assistance to the increasing number of foreign travelers in Korea, but many of the centers are still closed due to Covid-19.  
A Seoul Metro ticket vending and card reloading machine at Gangnam Station in southern Seoul

A Seoul Metro ticket vending and card reloading machine at Gangnam Station in southern Seoul

What other areas can Korea improve to help foreign travelers better navigate the country?  
Chad Anderson, a public administration professor at Incheon National University, pointed out that the Korean address system is very confusing.  
“The old Korean address system was not helpful in finding places unless you already had an idea of where they were,” said Ander- son. “Now with the new system in place, it’s better, but many places use both interchangeably and it becomes more confusing.”
According to Anderson, when non-Korean speakers are trying to find their way to the destination they want to go to and the address is unclear, they are unable to search for directions on how to get there. Those who are not used to the Korean address system see two different addresses with the same destination, resulting in more confusion.
He also added that it will also be helpful to use consistent spellings for landmarks and street names, especially in rural areas.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is looking to reinvigorate tourism through a global marketing plan WITH BTS as the Seoul tourism ambassador.
The Visit Korea Committee has also been providing a Korea Tour Card, a transit card for international tourists. The mobile version of the tour card is also available. A traveler can use a credit or debit card via the app and check the balance of the card at any time.
The Seoul Communication Portal also stated that, in order to deal with the increasing number of foreign visitors, Seoul has implemented a so-called Foreign Language Information Board Error Reporting Campaign, which offers a 10,000 won reward to anybody who reports English-language errors in signs.  
The city of Seoul is also planning to resume operations of the various obsolete Seoul Tourist Information Centers.

BY EJIN KIM, SEONGJUN PARK, YUJIN HONG [ekim84@gmu.edu, spark231@gmu.edu, yhong25@gmu.edu]
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