News, Culture & Society

Life in South Korea’s Goshitels


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A photographer has captured the cramped living conditions in South Korea’s goshitels, where thousands of low-income workers and students are forced to live in tiny cubicles due to Seoul’s soaring property prices.  

Goshitels – or goshiwons – are tiny dormitory-style housing units which often measure less than 54 square feet and are typically so crammed with clothes, books and furniture that only one person can comfortably fit inside at a time.

The rooms, which are equipped with a small bed and study desk, first appeared in the late 1970s and were used as cheap, temporary housing for students preparing for important state and bar exams. 

But now, goshitels have become home to a variety of working people who cannot afford the rising house prices in the South Korean capital, Seoul. They are particularly popular among low earners, as the rooms cost between 200,000 won and 300,000 won (£64 and £128) per month, which is much cheaper than a studio apartment.

A South Korean man uses his computer from his bed inside his minuscule goshitel in Seoul. These dormitory-style units typically measure less than 54 square feet

Another photograph, taken by Sim Kyu-dong, captures a young man as he sits surrounded by books and papers in front of a fan

Another photograph, taken by Sim Kyu-dong, captures a young man as he sits surrounded by books and papers in front of a fan

Some goshitels have a roof area where residents can hang out and also leave their clothes to dry along washing lines

Some goshitels have a roof area where residents can hang out and also leave their clothes to dry along washing lines

Pictured: A tenant inside a goshitel

Pictured: A South Korean man lies on his bed inside a goshitel

The rooms often contain only a small, twin bed and a study desk, with some storage space in shelving mounted to the wall

Compact, one-room flats often cost around 100 million won (£64,000) for a two-year ‘jeonse’ contract, which is a large deposit paid at the start of a tenancy in place of a monthly rent, which is then returned when the lease expires.

Photographer Sim Kyu-dong lived in various goshiwons – which translates from Korean to ‘exam room’ – when he first moved from Gangneung in Gangwon Province to Seoul to begin his career.

After his experience living in the tiny rooms, Sim decided to capture the plight of those still renting the cheap accommodation to uncover the struggles people face in downtown Seoul. 

He told BoredPanda: ‘Goshiwon is actually built for examinees preparing for various tests such as the state bar exam or civil service examinations. I used Goshiwon whenever I leave my home and stay in Seoul.

‘I decided to show the new residence form of Goshiwon with photographs. Once the public became aware of these new facts, I thought it would be meaningful to those living in the Goshiwon.’

In one photograph, a man is seen crammed in a tiny bed which barely fits his entire body as he fiddles with a remote control to watch television from a screen on a shelving unit above.

Another image shows a man clutching his stomach as he eats a bowl of watermelon on the top of his bed inside a goshitel

Another image shows a man clutching his stomach as he eats a bowl of watermelon on the top of his bed inside a goshitel

Another man has managed to pack his small space with a television and even has a small window near his twin bed

Another man has managed to pack his small space with a television and even has a small window near his twin bed

Goshitels - or goshiwons - are tiny dormitory-style housing units which often measure less than 54 square feet and are so crammed that only one person can comfortably fit inside at a time

Goshitels – or goshiwons – are tiny dormitory-style housing units which often measure less than 54 square feet and are so crammed that only one person can comfortably fit inside at a time

Pictured: A man inside a cluttered goshitel

Pictured: A young tenant watches television from his bed

Goshitels are particularly popular among low earners, as the rooms cost between 200,000 won and 300,000 won (£64 and £128) per month

Another image captures the inside of a dimly lit kitchen, which are often provided by the facility to be shared by all tenants. Tenants also typically have access to shared bathrooms, but there can be more than 20 occupants of a goshitel on each floor, the Korea Times reported.

In other photographs, men are seen lying in bed as the tiny floor space around them is covered in clothes, shoes and empty bowls and plates. 

Clean shirts are seen hanging from hooks near the ceiling in another candid image, as an occupant of a goshitel attempts to make the most of his minuscule living space.

The men have barely enough space to manoeuvre around in their homes as the rooms barely contain storage, leaving them with little choice but to stack their items on top of one another.

An older resident writes in a notebook on his bed as he kneels on the floor inside his home in a South Korean goshiwon

An older resident writes in a notebook on his bed as he kneels on the floor inside his home in a South Korean goshiwon

Another tenant was photographed preparing a meal of noodles and vegetables on his bed inside the small housing unit

Another tenant was photographed preparing a meal of noodles and vegetables on his bed inside the small housing unit

Another image captures the inside of a dimly lit kitchen, which are often provided by the facility to be shared by all tenants

Another image captures the inside of a dimly lit kitchen, which are often provided by the facility to be shared by all tenants

Pictured: A man sleeps inside a goshiwel

Pictured: A man barely fits on his bed in South Korea

The men have barely enough space to manoeuvre around in their homes as the rooms barely contain storage, leaving them with little choice but to stack their items on top of one another

Other pictures show how some occupants combine their living space into a mini kitchenette, preparing their food right next to their beds as their belongings are sprawled across the floor.  

Some goshitels have a roof where residents can hang out and also leave their clothes to dry along washing lines. 

It is also where tenants store extra belongings including sofas, blankets, and any other items they are unable to keep in their rooms, leaving them susceptible to wear and tear from the rain or unfavourable weather conditions.

According to data published by the South Korean government, there were some 5,940 goshiwons in Seoul and around 2,984 in Gyeonggi Province in 2017. The units have also recently appeared in more expensive neighbourhoods in the capital, including Chungdamdong and Dokokdong, at a higher price of 400,000 won to 600,000 won (£257 to £385) per month. 

Renters are largely working people in their 20s and 30s who cannot afford expensive deposits. 

Pictured: Shirts hang from hooks near the ceiling inside a goshitel

Pictured: A men uses a blender inside his home

Residents make the most of their small living space by drying their clothes on hooks near the ceiling (left) and using appliances on the floor (right)

Renters of goshitels are largely working people in their 20s and 30s who cannot afford expensive deposits in the capital

Renters of goshitels are largely working people in their 20s and 30s who cannot afford expensive deposits in the capital

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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