Sign outside a typical goshiwon. The '탑' is supposed to represent the English 'top' and not the Korean 탑 (塔) for tower.
A goshiwon (고시원) is a small room somewhere around 5 square meters (1.5 pyeong) that students will often live in for a number of months in order to focus on a test. Goshiwons are generally located inside buildings somewhere around the second to sixth floor or so, and one goshiwon will have a dozen or two people living on one floor. Note that a goshiwon is not the same as a goshi hagwon, which is a hagwon for students who are studying for a test. These tests (고시 or 考試 is another name for test in Korean) are similar to a bar exam in the sense that they give accreditation for certain positions, and due to their importance people will often live in a goshiwon and do nothing but study for a number of months to be sure to pass the test. Goshiwons include a large number of people from smaller cities who do not have family nearby and need an inexpensive place to live in close to the goshi hagwon.
At the same time, goshiwons are a remarkably cheap way of living in the country if one does not mind the small space, especially for a few months. Prices in a goshiwon will range from 200,000 to 400,000 won per month, and sometimes more. Sometimes the line between a goshiwon and a one-room will be blurred, and some rooms for 500,000 or 600,000 will have a bathroom and shower within the room itself. By this time it becomes a stretch to call the room a goshiwon as higher-priced rooms have thicker walls enabling guests to visit, and the price is high enough that most people living there will not be students but rather young people who are working full-time. Some one-room locations will even have a number of spaces around eight pyeong that often two people will share.
Inside view of a one-room, somewhat more expensive than a Goshiwon and with its own shower and toilet. Almost half of the room can be seen in this photo, and a room of this sort will be around 500,000 to 600,000 for a location in central Seoul.
Regular goshiwons have one to three bathrooms and shower rooms on a floor that are shared; thus, using the bathroom or the shower will involve a short trip down the hall where others may be. Goshiwons have a shared kitchen with a minimum of free rice, and often will have free kimchi, with eggs, ramyeon, and condiments. Some goshiwons have kind owners that will cook full meals from time to time as well.
Tips for finding a good goshiwon
- Goshiwons close to universities will have a group of younger and generally more dynamic people living inside, whereas cheap goshiwons far away will possibly have a number of unemployed or divorced middle-aged people.
- Check the number of bathrooms and washing machines on a floor before deciding. One bathroom or shower room on one floor will often result in having to wait for someone to finish and can aggravate a person and cause one to be later than expected in getting ready. Either that, or lost sleep as one may have to get up early to be sure of getting a shower in on time.
- Some goshiwons will not even have the bathroom inside the hall but rather out in the front by the staircase of the building. These are cold in the winter and are best avoided.
The cheapest goshiwons can also be used as a storage closet for people who are going abroad for a month or two and intend to come back. A quick search of some sites will turn up a few locations under 200,000 that are not worth living in but are fine for storage. See also: Storage facilities
(Note: Most of these goshiwons are unisex. If you are female and wishing to find a women-only goshiwon in a certain area, please contact us and we'll find one for you.)
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(all in Korean)